Sunday, June 9, 2019

Forgotten Weather Words & Early American Gardens

Olaus Magnus(1490-1557) - History of the Nordic Peoples Published in 1555 On different Effects of Thunderstorms and Lightnings

Forgotten Weather Words By Paul Anthoy Jones 6, 2015 on

Seems like we are becoming more aware of the recent extremes in weather lately.  Weather surely determines the growth & success of the majority of outdoor gardens, historic & modern-day.  I remembered an article from, that I read a few years ago, & tried to imagine which of these "forgotten weather words" might have made their way to the New World colonies along with our European ancestors.

To blenky means “to snow very lightly.” It’s probably derived from blenks, an earlier 18C word for ashes or cinders. (BWS See: Boston Gazette Monday, Mar 18, 1782 Boston, MA Issue: 1438 Page: 4)

Rainbows were nicknamed "bows of promise" in Victorian English, in allusion to the story in the Book of Genesis. (BWS See: Salem Observer Saturday, Sep 13, 1828 Salem, MA Vol: VI Issue: 37 Page: 2)

This is an old Irish-English word for the perfect weather conditions in which to dry clothes. Probably related to an identical Scots word for an insatiable thirst drouth was borrowed into American English in the 19C, where it eventually became another name for a drought. (BWS See: Charleston Courier Monday, Aug 20, 1810 Charleston, SC Vol: VIII Issue: 2356 Page: 2)

If the weather flenches, then it looks like it might improve later on, but never actually does. (BWS See: Columbian Centinel Saturday, May 03, 1794 Boston, MA Vol: XXI Issue: 16 Page: 4)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, if the weather is foxy then it’s “misleadingly bright”—or, in other words, sunny & clear, but freezing cold.

If, on the other hand, the weather is gleamy then it’s intermittently sunny, or as one 19C glossary put it, “fitful & uncertain.” (BWS See: Hampshire Gazette Wednesday, Aug 20, 1806 Northampton, MA Page: 1)

This is an old northern English word for long, thin streaks of cloud traditionally supposed to forecast a rain. It literally means “chicken scratches.”

Mare's tails are cirrus clouds—long, thin wisps of cloud very high up in the sky—that are traditionally said to “point” toward fine weather.

Moke is an old northern English word for the mesh part of a fishing net, from which is derived the word mokey, describing dull, dark, or hazy weather conditions.

This is an old word from the far north of Scotland for a hazy halo of cloud around the moon at night that was supposedly a sign of bad weather to come.

Pikels are heavy drops or sheets of rain. The word pikel itself is an old Lancashire dialect name for a pitchfork, while the local saying “to rain pikels with the tines downwards” means to rain very heavily indeed.

This is an old Scots word meaning “choke” or “smother,” which by extension also came to be used to refer to thick, stiflingly hot weather. A blind smuir, oppositely, is a snow drift.

Sugar-weather is a 19C Canadian word for a period of warm days & cold nights—the perfect weather conditions to start the sap flowing in maple trees.

This is an old southeast English word meaning “sultry” or “humid.” If the sky looks swullocking, then it looks like there’s a thunderstorm on its way.

Herman Melville used the old English word thunder-head in Moby-Dick (1851). It refers to a thick, rounded mass of cloud on the horizon, usually indicating that a storm is on its way.

Both twirlblast & twirlwind are old 18C names for tornados.

YOWE-TREMMLE—literally an “ewe-tremble”—is an old Scottish dialect word for a week of unusually cold or rainy weather beginning in the final few days in June that is literally cold enough to make the season’s freshly-sheared sheep “tremmle,” or shiver.