For most of a century, urban legend has held that the Inuit have a hundred words for snow. Whole armfuls of different linguistic units, each with its own fine-lined nuances, distinguishing one snow from another by temperature, thickness, flake size, adhesion, building potential… Because the landscape that shapes our lives should also channel our language, and the weather should feed our wisdom.
I wanted it to be true. It isn’t.
But here I am living in the UK, where rain shapes our experiences as much as snow shapes anyone else’s. We see rain often. Thunderous downpours and grey-clouded drizzle, sleet horizontally driven, large spattering drops that blotch the ground and bubble the water. Alternating sunshine and showers, and that long, dreary, drenching rain that spills autumn over into winter. The very word ‘weather’, untempered by adjective, defaults to mean ‘rain’ for us.
Situated as Britain is—on the boundary between continent and ocean, in the meeting-zone of conflicting air masses—we can receive our weather from Siberia one day and the North Atlantic the next, carrying its Caribbean influence of warmth and humidity. And so we see rain not only frequently but also variously.
Incidentally (or not), we also have armfuls of words for rain—dialect words, slang, euphemisms, onomatopoeia, metaphors, traditions: April showers, a splash or a soak, nice weather for ducks, bucketing, pelting, chucking it down. Scotch mist on a dreich old day, spitting and mizzling, liquid sunshine to wry optimists leaning toward irony. Rainstorms, cloudbursts, deluges, dropping down cats and dogs, the old man’s snoring. A fresh phrase if we need one for every rainy day in the year.
There’s an empty space here for just one more word: a name for that ambiguous, almost imperceptible twinkle of moisture from an open sky—less than drizzle, hardly more than dryness, a half-sensed droplet or two like a sneeze from a butterfly.
Twinkling: brief, negligible rainfall that leaves you never quite sure if you felt it or not. AQ