Weather Chat: How to Talk About Rain

Como los esquimales para la nieve, los británicos disponen de un amplio léxico para describir la lluvia. Desde el vocabulario más básico hasta expresiones idiomáticas creativas, repasamos la riqueza del inglés cuando se abren las compuertas del cielo.

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Sarah Davison

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We all know British people love to talk about the weather and in particular, they enjoy complaining about the rain. That’s not surprising since, on average, they endure 199 days of rain every year — that’s four days a week! What is surprising is that after the long hot summer of 2022, a lot of Brits wanted their rain back! One reason for this is that a prolonged period of drought can quickly lead to a hosepipe ban, which means people lucky enough to have a garden cannot water it. We like to think of England as a “green and pleasant land”, as the poet William Blake put it, and if there’s one thing most Britons can’t stand, it’s a dry, brown landscape.

Our intimate relationship with rain could be the reason there are so many words for wet weather in the English language, and if you’re spending any time in the UK, you need to be up to speed. Forget “It’s raining cats and dogs”. Hardly anyone uses that old-fashioned phrase outside of children’s books. Here are a few more nuanced terms to help you discuss the rain like a professional!

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“It’s trying to rain.”

It’s a nice weekend morning and you and your British friend have organised a barbecue in the garden. Not long before the guests arrive, ominous clouds begin to gather. You think you feel a drop or two. This is the point where you gaze knowledgeably at the sky and say: “Oh dear, it’s trying to rain.” Rain is not a hundred percent certain at this point, but if the current climactic conditions continue, it will almost certainly arrive.

“It’s spitting.”

This is when you feel the first consistent drops or notice several wet spots on the pavement. “Oh no! It’s spitting with rain!” is what you should say as you run into the garden to collect your washing from the washing line!

“It’s only drizzling.”

Drizzle is the very fine rain it’s not worth putting your umbrella up for, but which can make you quite wet if you stay in it long enough. The best defence against drizzle is a lightweight, waterproof jacket. Many Brits carry one in their bag during the summer! Drizzle is a noun and a verb, so if someone asks you, “Is it raining?” but you can’t see any actual drops, just some kind of misty precipitation, feel free to answer: “No, it’s only drizzling.”

“It’s a shower.”

A brief spell of rain that is not too heavy is called a shower. It can last from a few seconds to the time it would take you to have a shower at home. The most annoying of these is a ‘sunshower’, when it can be sunny and too warm for your waterproof jacket, but the rain is still falling quite heavily. Unsurprisingly, sunshowers are frequently accompanied by rainbows.

“It’s pouring down.”

A particularly heavy shower is usually known as a ‘downpour’. It can happen quite suddenly, like a trap door opening in the sky. If you’re telling an anecdote about some pleasurable activity that was interrupted by heavy rain, you can say: “I was having a fantastic walk in the countryside with Lucy, when suddenly the heavens opened and it started pouring down.”

“It’s tipping down/It’s bucketing down.”

If ‘pouring down’ isn’t quite enough for the prolonged deluge you wish to describe, you can always opt for “It’s tipping down” or “It’s bucketing down”. Just imagine thousands of little imps emptying buckets of water onto your head!

“It’s raining sideways.”

Worse than ‘tipping’ or ‘bucketing’ down is torrential rain plus a strong wind. When this happens, we say it’s raining sideways. We don’t behave like a tourist and attempt to open an umbrella in these conditions, as it will quickly turn inside out. As every Briton knows, the only thing to do is take out your rain jacket and accept that, after a few minutes, you will probably be drenched or soaked through, which means very wet indeed!

petrichor

If this leaves you wondering why British people actually miss rain after a prolonged dry spell, the answer might be found in a relatively new word: ‘petrichor’. First coined by two Australian researchers in the 1960s, the term is a combination of the Greek words ‘petra’, meaning stone, and ‘ichor’, which was the fluid that flowed like blood in the veins of the immortals in Greek mythology. Think of a long dry summer, when the earth is arid and dusty. At long last the rain comes and releases a beautiful fresh smell of moist soil. That’s petrichor! What you actually smell is a molecule called geosmin, made by the Streptomyces bacteria. Different soils contain different combinations and concentrations of bacteria, so each petrichor smell is slightly different. Human beings are extremely sensitive to the geosmin molecule, so much so, that it has even been included as an ingredient in several perfumes.

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Rainy Idioms

“Right as rain” - This means to be fit and healthy again, usually after an illness. A confusing association between wellness and rain has been ‘saved’ by global warming: imagine a refreshing rain shower after an endless dry spell.

“Come rain or shine” - Literally, whatever the weather, or, whatever the circumstances. Even the most easy-going people use this idiom with caution: it is a magnet for Murphy’s Law.

Saving for a rainy day” - If you actually manage to put money aside for a rainy day, you save it for a time of necessity or hardship, when you might genuinely need it unexpectedly. No cheating!

“To rain on someone’s parade” - A parade is a happy outdoor occasion, and if you rain on someone’s parade, you spoil their fun. There is an alternative word sometimes used to replace ‘rain’ that really emphasises the point here. Can you think what it is? 

“It never rains, but it pours“- Often bad luck seems to attract more bad luck and if you suffer one misfortune, more difficult situations will quickly follow! The silver lining, of course, is that you have the perfect opportunity to use this idiom.

 

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Este artículo pertenece al número de septiembre 2023 de la revista Speak Up.

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