Lurking in the dustier corners of the dictionary is a host of words that might come in handy during the winter months. As the weather turns nasty and the dark nights draw in, for instance, it might be worth remembering that to maggle is to trudge laboriously through snow or ice. When the snow finally starts to melt, bright white lines of snow left between the tracks of wheels are called snow-bones.
If you’re heading out Christmas shopping, bear in mind that a toe-cover is an utterly useless yet inexpensive gift—and that a Symplegades, named after the giants rocks either side of the Bosphorus, is a metaphorically cramped or constrictive situation. Leave your shopping to the last minute, of course, and you’ll be a Yule-shard: a Scots dialect word for someone who leaves work unfinished on Christmas Eve.
Heading into the holidays, a word worth knowing is angel-visits, a term for catch-ups with friends and family that are all too few and far between. To habbernab is another long-forgotten Scots dialect word meaning “to drink a toast with friends”, but be careful not to go too far and end up hosting a Dutch feast—19th century slang for a dinner party where the host got drunk before their guests did.
The first person you meet on New Year’s morning is a quaaltagh, a word for a festive caroller or first-footer borrowed into English from Manx in the 1800s. A New Year gift, meanwhile, can be called a handsel or an étrenne.
If the winter weather catches you out, bear in mind that alysm is the restless boredom that comes from being unwell or confined to your bed, while a meldrop is not only a drop from the tip of an icicle but, figuratively, a droplet at the end of a person’s nose. But when the weather finally improves, keep an eye out for a zeitgeber—a recurring seasonal event, like the earlier rising of the sun in spring, that provides a natural timeframe for animals and other organisms. And it’s at that point you can finally escape your hibernaculum—the place a hibernating creature sits out the winter.
The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities (Elliott & Thompson) by Paul Anthony Jones is out now.
Follow Paul on Twitter @HaggardHawks