‘Winter is not a season. It’s an occupation.’
A wise description from the American writer Sinclair Lewis of the months that see us scurrying about in various efforts to secure presents, enjoying/enduring the office Christmas party, and endlessly trying to keep warm. Winter’s emotions can veer from misery to exhaustion to true joy, and – as always – the dictionary offers a lexicon for all of them. Here’s my selection of ten words that variously express cosiness and conviviality, the desire to escape or doze, and the days when you’re unable able to feel your toes, let alone goodwill to all.
Probably my favourite winter-word of all, apricity is the warmth of the sun on a winter’s day. I like to think it could be used figuratively too, when brightness nudges away the chill.
An intensely cold winter’s day that hunches our shoulders and shrivels our skin. The word is a direct reference to the underworld itself.
A term from Cornwall for a disagreeable tingling in your extremities, thanks to a heller of a day.
A winter mist. This is the low-lying vapour that shrouds the land on a frosty morning, and a word borrowed from the Latin brumalis, ‘belonging to the winter’.
A gorgeous West Country alternative to ‘icicle’. ‘Icicle’ itself began as an ‘ice ickle’, making it entirely tautological, as ‘ickle’ itself is an old word for ‘icicle’.
Prone to sleeping through the winter. Useful not just for hibernating animals.
A fundamental part of the Danish concept of cosiness that is ‘hygge’. This is Scandinavian mulled wine, sweetened with honey, almonds, raisins, and spices. Its name beautifully conveys the ‘glug glug’ sound produced by pouring this nectar into a glass (or directly down your throat).
The place where dormitive people go to sleep – a hibernacle is a winter retreat.
Who knew Scots has more words for snow than almost any other language? A flother is just one, meaning a single flake of snow that heralds many more to come.
A culturally-specific term for the condition affecting Inuit peoples in winter, characterized by episodes of wild excitement and irrational behaviour followed by a period of stupor. A potentially handy term for the aftermath of the office party.