I thought that the word honcho as in head honcho (big leader / big cheese) came from Japanese. The OED and the Online Etymology Dictionary both say that it comes from the Japanese word 班長 (hanchō) or squad / team leader, and that it was borrowed by American servicemen in Japan and Korea in 1947-1953.

However, according to The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky, which I’m reading at the moment, the word honcho is a version of the Basque word jauntxo /xaunʧo/, a wealthy. powerful, rural landowner – a word with a ironic, negative undertone. From jaun (sir / lord / god). This sounds kind of plausible, though I haven’t found any other sources which make the same claim.

The book is interesting and includes quite a few bits of Basque language, and even some recipes. It is also somewhat biased in favour of the Basques.

Word of the day – ortzikara

Today’s word, ortzikara, is Basque and means “time when a storm is brewing” or in Spanish “tiempo amenazado por la tormenta”. Do any other language have a single word to express this meaning?

This word comes from a book I’m reading at the moment – Mother Tongues – Travels through Tribal Europe, by Helena Drysdale, in which the author and her family travel through Europe visiting people who speak minority languages such as Basque, Occitan, Sami and Corsican.

Related words include ihortziri (thunder), tximista (lightning), truxu (light rain), euri (heavy rain), bisuts (torrential rain), zara-zara (heavy rain), ortzadar (rainbow), haize (wind), elur (snow) and bisutsa (light snow). In fact there seems to be quite a lot words in Basque for different kinds of weather.