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Winter Idioms and Adages

Updated on November 22, 2019
Ben Reed profile image

Ben's life-long interest in language extends to the richness of its expressions, phrases, idioms, and quotations. They give it such variety!

Winter Idioms and Adages

In England, the winter season runs from the first day of December to the end of February. It is a time when nature takes rest, deciduous trees and shrubs have shrugged off their leaves, and people seek comfort from the ever-present cold and grey days.

As winter days seemingly drag by, each one greyer and gloomier than the last, we look for little moments of light and cheeriness. For some, these highlights are the first dustings of snowfall; for others, it is the winter solstice and the start of lengthening days. But all take respite at winters height though Christmas indulgence and New Year celebration.

This article details winter idioms and adages, generated from the impact of winter seasons on generations long past, but which still have relevant messages for those of us over-wintering today.

The fireside in winter - my favourite way to combat those cold and dreary days.
The fireside in winter - my favourite way to combat those cold and dreary days.

Winter Warming Proverbs

A blazing fireside - blinds drawn and a great movie is my choice of the ideal way to spend a cosy winter evening. These proverbs encapsulate the idea of the benefits of warmth and a roaring fireplace during dark and cold winter days.

  • One Kind Word Can Warm Three Winter Months — Japanese Proverb.
  • The Fire is Winters Fruit — Arabian Proverb.
  • The Fireside is the Tulip Bed of a Winters Day — Persian Proverb

Bees are well known for their industrious work. An ability that stands them in good stead for leaner times ahead.
Bees are well known for their industrious work. An ability that stands them in good stead for leaner times ahead.

Winter Warnings of Preparedness

  • The Bee Works all Summer and Eats Honey all Winter

Meaning: being industrious during a time of plenty and building a store or reserve ahead of harder times is common sense.

  • "The Grasshoppers Sang all Summer and Starved all Winter" —Elizabeth Gaskill

The same message as above, but said with a reversed emphasis.

Meaning: it is all well and good to enjoy the times of plenty, but if you fail to set something aside, the good times will eventually come to an end.

  • He Who Wants Yoghurt in Winter Must Carry a Cow in his Pocket

A Turkish proverb meaning: If you want to achieve something challenging, you need to be prepared to struggle to obtain it.

  • Brace Yourself; Winter is Coming

A phrase popularized by the recent television series Game of Thrones.

Meaning: prepare yourself ahead of an impending event or activity.

Example sentence: “It’s time to get your winter clothes out of mothballs and brace yourself, winter is coming.”

A cow in your back pocket may look something like this.
A cow in your back pocket may look something like this.

Winter Solstice - the Darkest Day of the Winter Season

  • Frost on the Shortest Day Bodes a Bad Winter

The shortest day of the year in England is the winter solstice, which occurs on either 21st or 22nd December.

The saying suggests that if it is frosty on this day, then it will remain bitterly cold for the remainder of winter.

What Is Your Favourite Season?

What is your favourite season?

See results

Winter of Discontent

  • Winter of Discontent

Has its origin in Shakespeare’s King Richard III, from the line: “Now is the winter of our discontent.”

Meaning: a period of hardship and suffering. This phrase was used to describe the winter of 1979 when strikes broke out across England.

Hats Off to Winter

  • Buy Straw Hats in Winter

A financial-based phrase meaning: buying stocks at a time when they are typically at a low price, in the expectation that they will rise in price later, showing the buyer a profit.

It is reputed to have its origin with the nineteenth-century American investor – Russel Stage.

Example: “We did well with those start-up stocks. They took a little while to move, but once they started moving, they blossomed. It was a case of buying straw hats in winter, and it that worked.”

  • In the Dead of Winter

This idiom developed in the sixteen-century draws upon the similarity of being dead and the winter month's lack of growth, life, and activity. It refers to the mid-point of winter, typically the darkest and coldest period of the season.

Example sentence: “It was a cold, dark time, in fact, the dead of winter, and all I wanted to do was to curl up by the fire and keep warm.”

My Other Car Is a Winter Rat

  • Winter Rat

This saying is peculiar to the USA.

Meaning: a beat-up car used for driving in harsh winter weather. The severe driving conditions impact on the vehicle not being an undue concern to the driver.

Example: “I keep my Porsche in the garage at this time of year. I use my old winter rat instead now that the weather has taken a turn for the worse.”

  • Winter Either Bites With its Teeth or Lashes With its Tail.

A proverb from Montenegro.

  • To Winter On

A way of saying that a person has a stock of food or supplies upon which they can rely to see them through the lean winter months.

Example: “We have filled our store cupboards with tinned foods, and our freezer is full to bursting with joints of meat and vegetables, we will surely have enough to winter on.”

  • Blackthorn Winter

Icy winds, often coincide with the flowering of blackthorn. These turn the hedgerows white. This cold snap is often called a “blackthorn winter.”

  • To Winter Over

A way to describe the act of enduring or tolerating the harsh winter season.

Meaning: that unseasonable weather is unhealthy.

  • An Old Man Loved is a Winter with Flowers — German Proverb.

"There are two seasons in Scotland: June and Winter" —Billy Connolly (Scottish Comedian)

Winter Warnings About too Mild a Season

A word or two for those who are not carrot connoisseurs:

  • Plant Carrots in January, and You’ll Never Have to eat Carrots.

The message here is to warn growers of the appropriateness or not of planting too early in the season. Forewarns of the risk that some people will be prepared to take, especially if there is unexpectedly mild weather.

  • A Green Christmas Makes a fat Churchyard

A Danish proverb that warns of the unhealthy aspects of winter being too mild. Believed to be expressing the view that unseasonably temperate climates can lead to the spread of illness.

  • If Grain Grows in January, it will be a Year of Great Need

"Winter is Nature’s Way of Saying, Up Yours.” —Robert Byrne

Winter Forecasts: Adages That Take Natures Cue to Predict Winters Outcome.

Cues from wildlife:

  • If ant hills are high in July, Winter will be snowy.
  • If Wasps build their nests high, Winter will be harsh and long.

Cues from Weather Patterns:

  • If a cold August follows a hot July, it foretells a Winter hard and dry.
  • If the first week in August is unusually warm, the coming Winter will be snowy and long.
  • For every fog in August, there will be a snowfall in August.

Winter Seasons Predictions for Future Months:

  • If it thunders in February, it will Frost in April
  • If February gives much snow, a fine summer it doth fore-show.

Weather Folklore Poll

Do you have a winter weather saying that you rely on?

See results

February Proverbs and Adages

  • February Fills Dyke, Black or White

Meaning: That February is likely to be a damp month.

Describes ditches being either full of snow of full or rainwater.

  • Better a Wolf in the Fold, Than a Fine February

At first glance, a strange thing to wish for, after all, who would not want beautiful weather in February?

However, in the context of the times this phrase hails from, farmers were reliant on a cool start to the year. Too much warmth, too early in the year put their crops at risk of premature growth and consequent exposure to any late frosts that often occur in the early months.

Chloe Rhodes, the author of One for Sorrow, cites the following writing of Virgil (circa 40 BC):

“Fell as the wolf is to the folded flock,

Rain to ripe corn, Sirocco to the trees,

The wrath of Amaryllis is to me.”

Amaryllis is the name of a shepherdess.

References

Rhodes, Chloe. "One For Sorrow." 2011. Michael O'Mara Books Limited.

A beautifully written and captivating collection of traditional sayings.

Dictionary of English Idioms, 2002, Penguin Reference.

A useful and well-structured resource.

Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, 2000, Oxford University Press.

I found this a useful resource, although the ordering by alphabet occasionally involved more page turning than I prefer when searching for particular themes.

Oliver, Harry. "March Hares and Monkeys' Uncles," 2005, Metro Publishing Ltd.

This book provides a fascinating insight into phrases we often take for granted.

Jack, Albert. "Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep," 2005, Penguin Books.

An excellent read. Full of in-depth research into idiom origins.

Comments

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    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      6 months ago

      Such an interesting and intriguing article just perfect for this time of year. A few I had heard of, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this enlightening read. Thank you for sharing.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      6 months ago from Ohio

      I never realized there were so many idioms about winter. I enjoyed reading this. Some are filled with wisdom, while others are humorous.

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