Let’s talk about the weather!
In England we have what is known as a temperate climate. This means that we don’t have weather that is either unbearably hot or unbearably cold. We do, however, have four distinct seasons, each of which offers us plenty of opportunity to indulge in our favourite national pastime, talking about the weather. This very English tendency to discuss climactic conditions has led to a varied and endearing vocabulary of weather related words and phrases. There are almost as many of these as there are English weather patterns!
VERBS RELATED TO THE WIND
The wind was blowing.’ (Moving enough to be felt but not causing problems)
‘The wind was howling.’ (Making a long cry – can also relate to people)
‘The wind was blustering.’ (Making an angry noise – can also relate to people)
VERBS RELATED TO THE RAIN
‘The rain was falling.’ (Coming out of the sky in the usual manner)
‘The rain was pitter pattering.’ (Making a noise as it landed on a surface)
‘The rain was pouring.’ (Coming down very quickly)
‘The rain was pelting.’ (Hitting people hard enough to hurt them)
‘The rain was drizzling.’ (Moving slowly but still getting you wet)
VERBS RELATED TO THE SUN
‘The sun was shining.’ (Casting warmth and light)
‘The sun was rising.’ (Coming up from behind the horizon in the morning)
‘The sun was setting.’ (Sinking down behind the horizon in the evening)
‘The sun was baking.’ (Being hot enough to be uncomfortable)
It’s raining cats and dogs!’
‘There is a lot of water falling from the sky!’
This one is clearly nonsense as cats and dogs are far more likely to be found curled up on sofas than falling out of the sky. This strange weather phrase has the most definitions of any we could find. There are those that suggest cats and dogs used to hide on roofs and either get washed off during rainstorms or drown in the poorly constructed streets and those who take a different approach and believe the phrase relates to sailors, who thought that cats could influence storms, and the Norse storm god Odin, who was often illustrated with a dog. Whichever of these is the correct root of the phrase, you will hear it regularly in England, and if cats and dogs ever do start falling out of the skies, we suggest that you take immediate cover.
I WAS ON CLOUD NINE
‘I really was very happy.’
Meteorologists would like to tell you that the ‘cloud nine’ in this idiom refers to cumulonimbus clouds, which rise very high (over 12,000 metres). If it were possible to stand on top of such a cloud you would probably feel very cold, very scared or very happy. It has been suggested that number 9 is the number of heaven. As we tend to associate heaven with looking up into the clouds and with contentment, maybe this one is the correct explanation.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
‘It’s peaceful now but it won’t be later.’
We have all experienced that lovely quiet moment, which we can’t quite enjoy because we know that something is about to happen that will spoil our peace. Maybe enjoying a morning coffee at work before the phone starts ringing or waking up on Christmas morning before the children. Like many weather idioms, it is suggested that sailors first used this one after noticing changes in the sea state and bird behaviour just before the onset of stormy weather. One meteorological explanation of this might be the decrease in atmospheric pressure that occurs as weather worsens. Changes in air pressure can be detected by wildlife including sharks and birds, so there may be some truth in this.
I AM SNOWED UNDER
‘If you give me any more work, I might scream!’
As most of us have probably never been unfortunate enough to be buried in snow, this phrase requires a bit of imagination. It isn’t too tricky, however, to picture yourself scrabbling up through a pile of snow, trying to find air, and relate this to the pile of work on your desk. This is an almost literal translation of a situation but it is interesting to note that, in the Norwegian language, there are huge numbers of words to describe snow. Some refer to the size of snowflakes (snØfjom = small), others describe the consistency of the snow (slaps = slush) and still more discuss the way snow is falling from the sky (fana = heavy falling snow).