Blowin’ in the wind

Q: I don’t relate to “offshore.” I have to stop and think every time I read about an “offshore” wind. Is the wind blowing away from the shore or toward it?

A: We’ve often wondered about the use of “offshore” ourselves. We also have to ask ourselves if a wind is blowing toward the sea or toward the shore.

The Oxford English Dictionary, which ought to know, says the first is correct.

The OED defines the adverb (e.g., “it’s blowing offshore”) as meaning “in a direction away from the shore.”

And it defines the adjective (“an offshore wind”) as meaning “moving or directed away from the shore; (spec. of a wind) blowing towards the sea from the land.”

Both the adverb and the adjective came into English in the 18th century, a great seafaring era.   

Here are a couple of citations from the OED that vividly demonstrate the meaning of “offshore” winds.

The first is from a journal kept by Charles Darwin aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, in an entry dated December 1833: “An insect on the wing with an off-shore breeze, would be very apt to be blown out to sea.”

The second is from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novel The Beasts of Tarzan (1916): “Caught by a heavy tide and a high wind from offshore they had been driven out of sight of land.”

Despite the explanations, we suspect that we’ll still have to stop and think the next time we encounter “offshore” in writing.

Perhaps it will help if we try to remember Darwin’s insect on the wing, being carried out to sea.

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