- Education and Science
"How Do I Soak Thee? Let Me Count the Ways: " Terms Used for British Rainfall.
Shall I compare thee to a Rainy Day!?
Rain plays a large part in British life and language
The Folksy Names, Describing Degrees of Precipitation, are Capitalized, in Itallics..
If any visitor or researcher of the British Isles has any doubt that they were wet and windy places to live, he or she only has to marvel at the number of ways the beleaguered inhabitants have to describe rainfall and (the infrequent) sunshine…which itself can be watery!
Although the major cities in Britain - principally London - rarely get the heavy and choking fogs known as “Pea-Soupers any more,” a combination of inverted weather patterns and the effluents from the thousands of chimneys in the long gone industrial age, we still get plenty of spirit dampening “Mists,” the first and least of the ways it can “Precipitate” in the UK. (Precipitate, or Precipitation is just a posh word for raining).
Probably the next in order of “wetability,” (nice to upset my spell-check, which just retaliated by making me put a hyphen in “spell-check!”), is “Spitting.” This is the rain that makes for indecisiveness as we leave the house. “Was that little needle of cold a raindrop I felt, or birdshit?” No, it’s just my circulation playing up again…wait, no, there’s another…and another. Back I go for my brolly/coat, laptop to abuse the BBC Weather Report who said it would be sunny all day.”
So we glare at the Accumulating-Nimble, or whatever that gloomy looking black cloud is to the west, and sadly put the intermittent wipers on in the jalopy, which smear the spider web, yellow dead moth viscera, accumulated bird droppings and road grease across the windscreen. (“Crap! I keep meaning to fill the screen wash bottle“).
You daren’t complain about rain in the UK. There is always some bright spark ready to out the unarguable mantra “Hey, but we need it, don’t we?” He might, the drip! (rain permeates the language here). Personally, I don’t care if we have a 7-year drought; all the farmers go bankrupt and we can see the centre of the earth through the cracks in the soil. I don’t care if the Sahara pushed northward and envelopes this miserable damp nation in 1000-feet high sand-dunes covered in rag-heads on camels. Call me self-centered, but…Just so long as the sun shines!
Oh, stop getting me going like this; you’re dampening my spirits!
Next, after the Weather God has a peep at us and decides we have adjusted to spitting, he turns up the ante a whit and it begins to "Fine Rain," followed by “Drizzle.” This last is a particularly nasty downfall which turns everything a monochromatic shade of grey; often occurs in winter to lower the temperature even further and has many considering bank-robbery (especially those who work in these institutions) to be able to fly away to the Bahamas…or the Sahara.
Drizzle has a habit of “Setting in” which is how Brits describe a weather pattern likely to last a week or more. (It rains effortlessly here, but the sun is always having trouble “Trying to come out!”). When weather people here say “We’re going to have sunshine and showers all day,” that means 1% sunshine and 99% cloud and rain…especially on bank holidays. “Ooo. Look, Gary, there’s enough sun to make a pair of sailor’s trousers!” (there’s a one-inch-square area of blue sky!”) You can sneer in Arizona, at least we don’t have rattlers and ASU students!
Less a matter of degree, but more of a time period is the “Shower.”
We look hopefully aloft from behind an inside-out brolly, and say brightly to anyone around, “It’s only going to be a shower I think.” If it wqsn't for our abyssmal weather, the British would never speak to one another at all!
“Well, we need it, don’t we?” is the damp rejoinder. A shower can be five minutes of lightish fall, to an hour of something approaching a monsoon in Mumbai (“well, we need it!).
It is about now that all the pets in Britain look resignedly skyward and moan, “Now it’s our turn to be accused of something we had no paw in!” That’s because the Creator (a fruit farmer) really opens the sluices and it rains "Cats and Dogs!" It’s hard to understand the imagery of this analogy, unless it refers to the size of the rain drops, (They might be "Thunder Drops!"). A cats and dogs event rarely drowns anyone here: if it lasts for long, it overwhelms the rain gutters and drain systems of many streets, After all, we’ve only been aware of the problem for thousands of years, not time to build adequate, high sidewalks and efficient drains…this is not the Amazon, after all. You always know when the rainfall has been particularly heavy here, the mad-hatter from the Ministry of Masturbation imposes a hosepipe ban!
Like how we deal with snowfall, a yearly event, as a two-inch downfall paralyzes the country, “Because it never snows here!” “We only stockpiled 3 tons of salt for the entire country!” Yes, and bankers never steal, the 2012 Olympic tickets sale is honest and Iraq had weapons of mass destruction!
Cats and dogs can also come down in containers, apparently, as it is "Raining Buckets."
This is a fun time for British motorists, gazing from their little hatchbacks, warm and dry and pissing up the road as fast and near to the walkways as they can, sending a bow-wave of water over the ants scurrying along, already soaked and late for work from hopping from one shop canopy to the other. That there is actually a law against doing this in Britain only makes it that much more fun.
Along with Cats and Dogs: now the rain is coming down in "Sheets" (wind driven). Along with the bedding theme, we are "Blanketed" in rain. It’s a "Downpour;" “Oh, mum, you should see it, it’s coming down in "Torrents.” “Yes, luv, but the farmers need it, don’t they?” Not that such heavy rain is always good, it can flatten crops when it is "Teeming Down!"
The cynically modern reply to is it raining over there? “Yes, it’s "Pissing Down!"
Traditionalists might talk of really heavy rain as a "Deluge." While God also occasionally takes part as the "Heavens Opened!"
Along with those who see precipitation as like a stream in a gent's loo, are those casual chaps who remark, "It's Chucking It Down"...or, "Heaving It Down!"
Sometimes, the rain turns into ice and comes down as "Sleet" (a sort of dirty, slush in drops) or "Hail," but that is for another article which Eskimos would do a better job of, they have about 30 words for degrees of snow. (It’s a "Blizzard," dad.“ Yes, Tarquin, but the seals need it!”)
As I write this…honest! There is a common battle going on in the sky outside my Herts flat. The sun is “trying to shine,” but is being swallowed by ominous thunder clouds. Oh, well, perhaps we’ll get a "Rainbow"…
Summary of Common Terms (From lighest to heaviest)
Mist -Spitting- Fine Rain- Drizzle- Cats and Dogs- Raining Buckets- Sheets- Blanketed- Downpour.
Torrent- Teeming Down- Pissing Down- Deluge- Heavens Opened!-
Chucking or Heaving it down, interchangeable with the above line.
Note: A Shower is a short event of any of the above in intenstity. Never confined to just
April, no matter what the poets say!