As Right as Rain

13th January 2016

Raining cats and dogs, pouring, or downright chucking it down. It rains on average for over 106 days a year here in Britain, so it goes without saying that we’ve developed a broad and varied lexicon for our much-loved subject of precipitation.

As a nation we’re renowned for our endless capacity for discussing the weather; we use beautifully, crazy descriptions such as ‘raining cats and dogs’ – a phrase that’s been used since the mid-seventeenth century, possibly referring to the description of two natural enemies not only falling heavily from the sky but fighting as they do so; a perfect description of the kind of rainstorm that leaves you running for cover.

The Met Office warns us of deluges, drizzle, scattered showers, wet spells and downpours, but there are plenty more words to be discovered. Have you ever, for example, looked out the window and shook your head at the ‘smirr’? If you have then you’ll know very well that it’s the fine, mist-like rain that is truly the bane of those who straighten their hair’s life.

A woman who’s familiar with a little bit of smirr is author and former writer in residence at Gladstone’s Library in Flintshire, Melissa Harrison, who while researching her forthcoming book Rain: Four Walks in English Weather, discovered a treasure trove of colloquial words used for rain. “The librarian there, Gary Butler, brought a huge stack of Victorian dialect glossaries to my desk, and I spent many happy hours there devouring them as rain drummed on the roof of the beautiful gothic-style building.” We asked her for her favourite, obscure British word for rain; she couldn’t choose one, so opted for three instead:

• Cow-quaker: a sudden storm in May, after the cows have been turned out to pasture
• Letty: A Somerset term meaning enough rain to make outdoor work difficult. (To ‘let’ is to disallow)
• Plype: From the North East of Scotland, a sudden heavy shower

Our own research uncovered more; we’re rather fond of these beauties:

• Thunder-plump: An old Scottish word for a very heavy, sudden rain shower
• Mizzle: The Cornish word for misty drizzle
• Driech: A great Scottish description of our current drab, miserable weather
• Plothering: You might hear this onomatopoeic word in the Midlands during a heavy downpour
• Luttering: Absolutely pouring down

The inclement weather is all set to continue for some time. It’s going to be coming down in stair rods, siling, blashy, grizzerable, dimpsey, grumlie and downright shucky in some parts of the country.

Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison (Faber) due for release on March 3rd

Here’s our pick of the Right as Rain collection; you wouldn’t want to find yourself droukit (and old Scottish word for being soaked right through) now, would you?

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