How to name the cold


Image: Pixabay

Well, my dears, it’s finally arrived.

After an ‘Autumn’ that’s lasted from September all the way through to early January, after days warm enough to wear a tee shirt outdoors, with unseasonable flowers raising their cheeky heads – Winter has hit the UK.

As I type this, my hands are their customary cold weather shade – an attractive reddish purple. If my hands were a paint colour I’d like to think it would be called Bruised Maiden or GBH Sunset or Liverish Lavender. I could start my own range named after parts of the human anatomy – I could call it Murderous Moods or Killer Colours … Anyhoo …

They* say Inuits have many, many words for snow – and why wouldn’t they? If your life depended on how firm a snowdrift or pack ice was, you’d develop specific ways to describe every conceivable type of frozen H20 as well. The last thing you need in a life or death situation is to be stumbling over language …

Oh, don’t take the sleigh over there. Yesterday dad went that way and snow was sort of … Well, you know when the sun’s been shining and it’s just melted the top of the ice crust, then it’s frozen again over night – but then it’s melted a tiny bit the next morning, just enough to dig your whale bone pick into but – Hello? Where’s he gone then? 

So today, WEDNESDAY WORD TANGLE brings you


The Inuit may have a fair few frosty words, but have you ever thought how many words English has for solid water in various forms? How about

Sleet: Slush: Rime: Frost: Hailstone: Snowflake: Blizzard: Whiteout: Ice: Floe: Icicle : Powder: Glacier: Thaw: Snowman: Snowball: Iceberg.

I’m sure I could go on – but I won’t. Even better are the Scots who have over 400 fantastic words relating to solid eau, including

feefle – to swirl

flindrikin – a slight snow shower

snaw-pouther – fine driving snow

spitters – small drops or flakes of wind-driven rain or snow

unbrak – the beginning of a thaw

Makes me feel chilly just reading them.

And for those of you who can’t get enough ice related shenanigans, may I recommend my favourite TV programme from the entire Christmas season.

It’s a documentary following members of the Scandinavian Sami people taking reindeer and a sleigh along an old Norwegian postal route.

It’s a lot more magical than it sounds.

There is no voice over – there is no music. All you will hear are sleigh bells, the crunch of snow under hooves and the occasional snatch of the Sami language. All you will see are reindeer, a sleigh, a handful of people and … snow. A lot of snow. This programme is two hours long. Give it five minutes and you might lose the entire afternoon …

Visit here for a snippet, and here for the whole programme.


*They in this case being the 19th century anthropologist, Franz Boas.

Much greatness goes to Kat, founder of W4W.


18 thoughts on “How to name the cold

  1. I just watched that snippet, and was gripped by the different ways people live. I looks like a hard way of life, but it brought out a longing in me which is always close to the surface. We live in such a peculiar, artificial way these days, relying as we do on the filling in of forms and the exchange of virtual money, constantly looking for ways to our lives easier; purchasing machines, typing questions into computers, looking for happiness by spending twenty-four hours travelling to a holiday-brochure paradise when we don’t even know what the rest of our country looks like – and then having to take the trip back. We haven’t realised yet, that ease is not the key to happiness, but perhaps simplicity is. These people appear to live hard, simple lives, and that is what I always wanted to do,although it’s too late now…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, their lives look terrifically harsh, but the landscape and the light is beautiful. I’m not sure many Sami live like this now, though. I think it’s a life you have to be born to – I loathe our comparitively mild winters so I’d be a whingeing heap near the Arctic Circle!
      A simpler life often appeals – near a forest or the sea 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It would have to be a forest for me. I get bored quickly when the sea isn’t wild and angry – although I like scrabbling over rocks and searching for shells and unexpected treasure…
        How about a forest near ther shore, with lush meadows behind it?
        Oi loikes me lush meadow, Oi does…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha! That’s pretty much my ideal Writing Cave – a tree house within sight of trees, within earshot of the sea and with some lovely flowers and bees to gaze at nearby. Perfect

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ah, yes, the joys of poor circulation A minor affliction but irritating none the less.I wouldn’t last five minutes in the Arctic circle before some part of me dropped off!


  2. Sorry! Such a lightweight, I lasted 30 seconds!

    I have often wondered if that is true about the Inuits and snow words… And yeah we have plenty too come to think of it. Have you any snow there? It’s just wet and frosty here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! I knew when I posted the link it wouldn’t be for everyone (anyone?) I tried to describe the programmed to the girls at work, but I think they thought I was a bit odd – probably right!
      No snow here – just frost this a.m and a wind cold enough to freeze anything not covered up. I am wearing my thermals 🙂


  3. Oh, I loved The Sleigh Ride. I is one of the many reasons why did didn’t write as much over Chrimbo as I thought I would… Those two hours were well worth it, though.

    It’s got colder here (of course, now the ice rink has gone…), but it’s still far from freezing. But I think it’s coming :(. Mind you, those Scottish words are beautiful 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I’m so glad you liked it – you’re the first person I’ve come across who watched it too. It might sound odd when you try to describe it to someone, but when you watch it, it’s mesmerising.
      Yeah, just cold here – frosty on the windscreens and really cold in the wind, but nothing more.
      And the Scottish words are fabulous, aren’t they? A poet and short story writer from my writing group uses a lot of Scots dialect words in her work – us sassenchs may need a translation, but they give a distinctive rhythm to her writing which is lovely.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I know what you mean – it’s magical unless you have to live in it! My mum lives in northern England (so did I when I was growing up) and some of the winters their can be interesting. The town where she lives is high in the hills and regularly gets isolated by snowfalls – I remember my dad having to dig us out of the house when I was a kid. Down here in the south west of England it’s much warmer, thanks to the Gulf Stream – I do not miss the snow 🙂


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