The UPS driver left Melissa Harrison’s Rain: Four Walks in English Weather (2016) on my front porch last night.
I’ve always been rather mystified by the English relationship to their weather. Chill, damp, fog, and rain. Are these the four keys forming the English character, like the four points of the compass? Weather orients things. Weather dictates what grows in the soil under your feet. And weather – if you eat local – determines what appears on your plate. Why couldn’t weather shape character as well?
Harrison recognizes the power of rain, writing “Fear it [rain] as we might, complain abut it as we may, rain is as essential to our sense of identity as it is to our soil.” (xiv)
The ubiquitous umbrella and the stereotype bowler hat, the latter not of much use, I’m afraid, in keeping off the wet of England.
But one thing is for certain: weather shapes language.
England – Britain actually – possesses at least 100 names for rain, mostly regional usage. I learned this by flipping through Harrison’s book. The glossary at the end throws out these 100 words and phrases, beginning with “All of a pop” and ending with “Yukken it down.” Who knew?
There’s also these linguistic gems:*
Hossing it down: raining hard
Kelching: raining hard; worse than juggin
Mizzle: small rain
Moor-gallop: wind and rain moving across high ground
Plothering: heavy rain
So many synonyms! I want to hug them all to myself, embed them in my brain!
Harrison puts a big shiny bow on this gift of words by tacking on another list at the end of the book, a list of standard meteorological terms.
As a writer, I notice things like that, “that” being different words for the same things. It’s a bit like any other form of collecting, actually. Harrison’s bibliography provides clues for collecting words. She bases her lists on a number of nineteenth-century collections, including Robert Forby’s verbosely titled books, The Vocabulary of East Anglia: an Attempt to Record the Vulgar Tongue of the Twin Sister Counties, Norfolk and Suffolk, as it existed in the last Twenty Years of the Eighteenth Century, and Still exists, with Proof of its Antiquity from Etymology and Authority, Vols. I & II, 1830.
A combination of history, musings, and facts, Rain is a good book to grab on a – yes – cold rainy day, best read in a comfortable armchair while the juggin rain pelts the windows and all you must need do is to watch the weet turn to harr .* Be sure you prepare a proper cuppa and sip the tea slowly, savoring the moment, munching a scone, too.
*From pages 89-95 of Rain.
**Juggin = raining steadily, weet = wet weather, haar = misty rain drifting in from the sea