Scotland Weather and the National Dialogue
Och! it’s rainin’ again!!!
I read one time that the Inuit have thirty words for snow. Och, that’s nothing! We Scots have at least that many for RAIN.
I needed that many wurrds and a few more on my recent trip to my homeland. When we left Inverness in the morning the sun shone, but by the time we reached Fort William it was gie drumlie or awful gloomy. We then drove through the infamous Glencoe and felt about as vulnerable as a bunch of MacDonalds entertaining a band of treacherous Campbells. It was lashin’ or evendoon as in: heavy, continuous rain, falling straight, perpendicular. Instant waterfalls poured out and off the mountain. Imagine making your escape out of that valley, through the bracken in a rain-soaked kilt and wool socks.
I blessed the vintage car my old friend, Beryl, drove that threw up a spray ahead and around it and kept on going. I never saw rain like that before. Surrounding us, a torrent of water ran in white rivulets down the mountain like lace curtains pulled to shut out a dreich afternoon. The gullies and burns were level with the road. We had to use a recently constructed diversion ahead where the road had washed out. Later we learned that the rain on that day had set a twenty-four-year record.
Even if you’ve never heard broad Scots spoken before, the words for rain have to evoke a response if not a rejoinder.
Discussion of Scotland weather is de rigueur in the Scottish lexicon of good manners. It’s the “opening line” for any social situation. Our primary form of greeting for friends and strangers alike is generally a comment about the weather. And of the weather much can be said.
Some comments invite response and have, no doubt, been the salutation that began new friendships, like “Terrible weather for the Glasgow Fair, is it not?’
“Aye, terrible.” Sizing up the accent (foreign) and the friendly visitor’s naivety, the polite response is, “Ye’ve never been tae Rothesay before then, eh?”
Other weather comments serve to hail a neighbour.
“A wee bit damp oot, eh?”
“Threatenin’ all afternoon, was it no’?”
“Aye. It was overcast till teatime, then the rain came on.”
“Wouldn’t ye know, fine dryin’ weather and it’s not my washin’ day.”
“Good day to do your windows, though.”
“Och, I’m not botherin’. Ye cannae keep them clean anyway.”
Weather conversations can deftly lead to sports conversations, especially around Glasgow.
“Och, looks like rain again. Have ye noticed Setterdays are aye like this when the Rangers have a big game?”
One-upmanship is acceptable and it’s even polite to get in the last word when discussing weather.
“Nice outside the day. Is it not?”
“Aye, if the rain stays away.”
But since it often doesn’t stay away, we Scots have expanded the language for wet weather way beyond the usual English expressions for rain. Words like cloudburst, precipitation, squall, shower, downpour, torrent, blustery or even “coming doon cats and dugs” are fine but do they really paint a picture? Can you feel it dripping down the back of your neck? Does it help you to smell the pervading dampness?
Not on your Nellie!
Travel around Scotland and listen for the friendly weather reports from people who know their weather. There are onomatopoetic words you’ll hear only in and around Lanarkshire.
For example, in Glasgow, if it’s warsh, you’d better find a warm jacket. If it’s mistin’, drizzlin’, sprinklin’, spittin,’ patterin,’ or jist a smirr, take a light raincoat. On the other hand, if it’s drenchin’, or pourin’ doon in buckets, or even worse, in stair rods, wait a wee while indoors.
Only the verbally challenged in Glasgow would say that the rain is “falling.” Rain isn’t simply falling. No! It’s threatenin’, drivin’, peltin’, stoatin’ aff the road, streamin’, pourin’ or teemin’.
If you go out in the rain you’ll not only get wet; you could get soakin’ wet, drippin’ wet, soppin’ wet, wringin’ wet, soaked, drencht or droont.
In some parts of the country showers are subdivided into sun showers, wee showers and skurrachs (wee fast showers) or thunder-plumps (sudden heavy, noisy showers). Which is frightening enough, but say you’re in Banff and you hear a local say, “It’s bullet-stanes out there.” Obviously you’d stay inside. Right?
In Aberdeen if it’s a drabble, you might get a little wet, but if it’s bleatery or plowtery outside, stay by the fire. For any other kind of weather conversation in Aberdeen get an interpreter. The same advice applies for Orkney.
I had the pleasure of visiting in Banff, in Aberdeenshire, with a local native during a typical Scottish weather event.
A friendly stranger waylaid us as we struggled to stay vertical in the gale. “Blin’ drift,” he sez.
“A fierce blizzard where visibility is zero,” my interpreter told me, then responded. “Aye aye, mochie day. Hale watter.” She yells the translation into my ear, “Heaviest rain possible.”
“Bla’ the spokes fae the posties’s bike.” This guy wasn’t going to give up. He was a “last word” kind of Scot.
I have only touched the tip of the iceberg with this brainstorm about weather. Is it merely a tempest in a teapot or a subject open to a storm of controversy?
I expect a deluge of reaction and a hailstorm of protest from Scots whose favourite words have been left out in the rain.
Have a nice day.