Scots: more words for rain than Eskimos for snow

rainIt is often claimed that “Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow”, but I wondered whether this is true or if there were more Scottish words for rain. First, the truth about the Eskimo or Inuit:

David Robson, New Scientist 2896, December 18 2012, Are there really 50 Eskimo words for snow?
“Yet Igor Krupnik, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Washington DC believes that Boas was careful to include only words representing meaningful distinctions. Taking the same care with their own work, Krupnik and others have now charted the vocabulary of about 10 Inuit and Yupik dialects and conclude that there are indeed many more words for snow than in English (SIKU: Knowing Our Ice, 2010). Central Siberian Yupik has 40 such terms, whereas the Inuit dialect spoken in Nunavik, Quebec, has at least 53

So there are up to 50 words. But how many words have we got in Scotland for rain? I’ve compiled the following list many of which I do not know so I’ve marked those I personally use with a *star.
Aftak (an easing or lull in a storm or rain)
Aitran (piercing cold, persistent rain)
Ask, Yask (a variant of ask, a fine rain, drizzle)
Baffin (Buffeting? The drenching and buffeting one gets when exposed to a storm)
*Beating down (heavy sidewards rain)
Bleeter, Bleatery (A passing storm of wind or rain)
Bowder (a great squall, blast, a heavy storm of wind and rain)
*Bucketing down (fills buckets)
*Buffeting (blustery wind usually with rain)
*Coming on to rain (looking like rain)
*Dab (A fine rain, a drizzle)
Dag, dagg (light drizzly, more or less steady rain Orkney)
Daggle (to fall in torrents)
*Damp (fine rain)
*Dash ‘a dash of rain” (a sudden fall of rain)
*Deluge (a sudden heavy fall)
Dish (to rain heavily)
*Downpour (A period of heavy rain)
*Dreach ‘a dreach day’ (Gaelic a day that is gloomy with rain)
*Drenching ‘a drenching’ (getting soak with rain)
Driv (light drizzly, more or less steady rain Orkney)
*Driving rain (heavy rain blown sidewards by wind)
*Drizzle – fine continuous rain
*Drookit (absolutely drenched.)
*Drumming down (usually said when in a tent or tin roof)
Either (to rain slightly)
Fiss – drizzle
Flooding (heavy rain leaving surface water)
*Flurry (a wave of rain)
Fluther, fludders (in great days it run in fludders)
*Fog (fine droplets wetting surfaces)
Fyag (A slight or find show of rain)
Goselet (A soaking, drenching, downpour of rain)
*Haar (an east coast mist which swirls inland)
Hagger (to drizzle, rain gently)
*Hammering (usually very heavy vertical rain – so loud it is the main thing that can be heared)
Hooring (wind screen wipers on full)
*Horizontal rain (goes sideswards more than down)
Huther – light intermittent rain
Kaavie (heavy driving rain)
Krammy (close, find drizzly)

M8 in the Rain

M8 in the Rain

*Lashing (rain bounces of ground)
Lum (to fall in a downpour)
*Mist (a type of fog)
Murr (a find rain or drizzle)
Musk (occaisional light rain-showers)
Pani (the form of rain)
Peas souper (English term in use in Scotland)
Peeggirin (A storming shower)
*Peeing down (alt pissing down)
Pelsh, Pilsh – a drenching shower
*Pelting down (throwing it down)
*Pissing down – really falling down
*Pitter-patter (the sound of moderate rain)
Planet (a heavy, but localised shower of rain)
Pleuran (rained)
Plum shower (a sudden fall of rain)
*Pouring (a lot of rain)
Raff (a sharp shower of rain)
*Rain (Rain)
*Raining cats and dog
Rav (light drizzly, more or less steady rain Orkney)
Risk – fine rain
Rog (portending rain)
Roost (Orkney: Fine rain, drizzle, fine hazy mist)
rugg (light drizzly, more or less steady rain Orkney)
Rus (a fine rain accompanied by high wind)
*Saturated (absolutely drenched.)
Schiting, Skite (to rain slightly)
*Scotch mist (heavy fog or low lying cloud that soaks)
Scow. Scrow (a squally shower of rain, a wind and rain storm)
*Weather for ducks (so much rain puddles form everywhere)
*Set in for the day (adj: continuous rain)
Skudding down (skud:-a slight sudden shower  OR  mist, rain, snow, or spray driven by the wind)
*Sheets ‘sheets of rain’, the rain can be seen to come in “sheets”
*Shower (a period of rain)
*Sleat (rain with snow)
*Sleek ‘a sleeky day’ (a day in which there falls a considerable quantity of rain)
Smirr (a fine rain drizzle)
Smizzle (to rain lightly thinly)
*Smog  (pollution + fog)
Smue (Thick drizzling rain or smoke)
Smuggy (thing fine drizzling rain)
Sneesl (To rain, hail or snow lightly)
*Soaking ‘a soaking’ (heavy rain usually unexpected)
*Soft rain (light)
*Spindrift (spray whipped up by the wind)
*Spit (to spit – small individual drops)
Spitter, spither (a slight shower of rain or snow)
*Spitting – (light quantity of rain but enough to be be felt)
Spotting (similar to spitting)
*Sprinkling (enough to show on the ground but no more)
*Squall (a small storm of rain)
Stair rods (heavy individual streaks of rain)
*Storm (a period of wind, usually with rain)
Stotting (Stot is a common Scots and Geordie verb meaning “bounce” … rain stotting off a pavement)
Sump (A sudden heavy fall of rain, a deluge)
*Thrashing down (heavy rain)
*Throwing it down (Pelting down)
*Torrent (a big downpour)
*Torrential rain (mostly vertical in torrent usually warm)
Uar – A waterspout, a heavy fall of rain
Umplist (a sudden outburst of wind and rain)
Uplowsin (shetland –  heaving rain)
Vega – rain
*Weather for ducks (so much rain puddles form everywhere)
*wet ‘it’s wet’
*wringing wet (absolutely drenched.)
Yillen (A shower of rain, a drizzle, especially with wind)
That’s over 100 words of which I use about 50.
I’ve used as a definition for “rain” any water coming out the sky in droplets that wet surfaces, which includes words such as fog (Scotch mist is really a light rain – often used jokingly – but if not its rain with mist which is often low lying cloud)
Linguistic Note
Scotland has a mixture of words from English, Norse, Gaelic and some from the British empire (torrential?). The main source for the Scots was the Dictionary of the Scots Language and that prompted me to add a lot of other words.


A couple of extra words have been suggested:
Smog, Pea-souper
But I’ve never heard anyone around here use Smog or Pea-souper. I’ll have to check with an older generation who might remember when there were coal fires.
Stotting – Stot is a common Scots and Geordie verb meaning “bounce” … rain stotting off a pavement.
Added Skudding down

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36 Responses to Scots: more words for rain than Eskimos for snow

  1. TinyCO2 says:

    One term that came from my Mother’s family is ‘steaming’ which is where (usually in the summer) it rains so hard that the rain bounces up again forming almost a mist about a foot high. Also ‘bobbing down’ where the rain forms big bubbles in the puddles already formed. I don’t know if these had much provenance historically or were like our own family invention ‘pleuting’ which is rain experienced while on a French holiday. I was amused to hear somebody on Radio 4 use the same term and concluded that many Brits with school French arrive at the same word while sheltering from a summer down pour. After all, if it’s used on the BBC it’s practically in the OED.
    No doubt about it, if you see a lot of something you invent a lot of words for it.

    • Scottish-Sceptic says:

      Thanks, the old Scots were difficult because it wasn’t clear how many might be very local. I missed out a few that were obviously specific I forget the word, but it was something like “A Bannock – like the rain that fell at the Bannock fair”.
      I still think there ought to be a specific word for rain that goes more horizontally than vertically. Then there’s the rain that fills gutters.
      There ought to be a word for “rain out of a blue sky” – I suppose “blue-sky rain”. Rain that turns to ice when it falls. Rain that you never see fall – but wets the ground. Warm rain. Rain after a humid or dry spell that clears the air.

      • TinyCO2 says:

        “rain out of a blue sky” isn’t that usually screenwash?
        You missed out smog and pea souper (thick fog) though maybe they were more southern? Also if you want to end up in the MET Office, how about precipitation? Or the ever useful changeable? It looks like it could mean anything but you know they mean rain at some point they can’t pinpoint.
        There’s no single word for ice storms and their resultant black ice, probably because they’re not that common.
        I recognise stair rods as a term so it’s not that rare.

        • Scottish-Sceptic says:

          I considered precipitation when I was near 95 words and thought it would be cheating to add it. Likewise with “heavy”, “moderate”, etc rain – I thought these were measures of rain and not a word for a type of rain. I notice I left in “soft rain”.
          It would be interesting to try the same with ice and snow. Neve, icicle, ice-cube, rime, drift, flurry, hail, frost, powder-snow, slush, snowball, snowman, snowstorm, whiteout, snowflake, snowfall, wet snow, hailstone, iceberg, iceflow, glacier, crust, hard pack, freezing fog, artificial snow, cornice, hoar, avalanche, firn, packed, wind slab, blue ice, icefall, snowpack, graupel

  2. TinyCO2 says:

    One thing that’s struck me is how much the British love words. It’s why English is so big. I cherish the words that my parents included in our childhood. Dad would threaten us with gruts (like grits) and wemmel (nothing) if we didn’t eat our dinner and Mum would talk about snickets and ginnels (small passageways) and say we’d get chingcough if we sat on a cold step. We always assumed it was piles but we later discovered it was an old word for whooping cough. We also invented a few words which can be confusing to strangers.

  3. TinyCO2 says:

    Last one – cloudburst. Though I first heard this in the Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day so it could be southern or even US.

  4. wulliejohn says:

    Stotting, or stoattin’

  5. Scottish-Sceptic says:

    Thanks, not heard of that one: Stot is a common Scots and Geordie verb meaning “bounce” … rain stotting off a pavement. I’ll add that

    • wulliejohn says:

      Stotting, or as it is pronounced, stoattin’ as you say refers to bouncing. Thus stotting a ball off a wall, an age old girls game, with variations as to how th ball was thrown and caught – under leg, after spinning around , after heading it etc. A ball which was an exceptionally good bouncer was known as a stotter – quite rare in days when most balls in use were old punctured tennis balls. From this anything which was exceptionally good, especially a good looking girl was known as a “stoatter”. Very sexist, but I am sure that the girls used the same term of young men.

  6. wulliejohn says:

    An after-thought.
    Scudding down.

  7. Diane says:

    Chucking it down (Ayrshire)

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  9. Sally says:

    I was told that the word “mizzel” or mizzle, not sure of spelling, means a very fine misting rain.

    • Scottish-Sceptic says:

      Thanks, interesting! I’ve checked the Old Scots dictionary and cannot find the term. However, looking at the Oxford dictionary I find it is there and appears in middle English as “misellen” (“to drizzle”). Cognate with Low German musseln ‎(“to mizzle”), Dutch miezelen ‎(“to drizzle, rain gently”). The etymology is “Of obscure origin, but apparently related to Middle Low German mes ‎(“urine”)”.
      All too often, this kind of statement means they will look for obscure words in other languages but ignore the potential for just as close words in Old English. But in this case it’s unlikely that it comes directly from Old English because the “linguistic real estate” is already occupied by the word “mis-” as in “mis-take” and another word “maes” which means table.
      However, nor does it seem likely to come from “urine” as the phrasing “pissing down” hardly means “fine mist”. As such I suspect a more likely ultimate origin would be from the word: “mist” (found in Old English) .
      Old English had a diminutive suffix “-el” (also -ol, -ul) so that “mist-el” would be a small mist
      But Middle English has -elen, -len, -lien, from Old English -lian representing repetition or continuousness so “continuous mist”.
      Either seem to be a very good etymology, so I am (yet again) surprised it is not mentioned.
      And just to add to the mistery (greek), there is the word “mistle” as in “mistletoe” (“toe” means twig). If so, the meaning of “mistle-toe” would be “drizzle twig” which would seem to imply it is old English. But this is interesting as of course one of the few things we know about the druids is that they used to pick mistletoe – which would be kind of ironic, because it appears to me that “druid” comes from a group of words of which today we would write as “dryed” (modern y u in old English) so in old English this would be dru-ed. This in turn appears to be related to the Old English word “drugan” (to dry) from the sense of dried herbs or drugs.

      • wil says:

        Not sure about Scotland but in Cornwall Mizzle is a common-ish term for something between mist and drizzle, otherwise known as “Cornish mist”. Pretty much the same as “Scotch mist”
        “Wach u bout? tis only mizzling.”

      • Marion says:

        Here in Norn Irn we use mizzle quite a lot, as in, ” It’s only mizzling outside” – as if I would be mizzling anywhere else! I remember that fact about all the Inuit words for snow from a sociolinguistic lecture at uni, but thought they were all nouns rather than verbs? Snow that has partially melted, snow the husky has peed on, etc?

        • Scottish-Sceptic says:

          Interesting question re verbs v. nouns, because rain is both a verb and a noun (as is snow) and when water stops falling it becomes something different.
          I suppose logically the equivalent of “fallen snow” – are words like is dew, puddle, etc.

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  11. Tel says:

    Ulster-Scots has ‘teeming’ for very heavy rain and ‘skiffing’ for very light rain

  12. Davie says:

    When I was still living in England we used to use the expression ” It’s absolutely persisting down”.

  13. Chris says:

    In the North East (Moray but possibly elsewhere) we often describe rain as “weatin’ stuff” or “guie weatin’ stuff”. Translated out of the native Doric “wetting stuff” and “very wetting stuff” respectively. This literally means it gets you wet in a particularly efficient way even for rain!
    It is a phrase I’ve always been fascinated by and I can tell you my years of less than scientific research have revealed that it is certainly the case that some types of rain get you wet more thoroughly than others.

  14. Alan says:

    An Edinburgh taxi driver once described the sudden showers that blow off the sea as Drei(pronounced) ‘dreeg’. So there’s another one for you

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  16. Remile says:

    Smog and pea souper are nothing to do with rain. And technically, sleet and fog are distinct phenomena (not rain either). It undermines the credibility of the list if you’re going to include related (but different) weather phenomena. Why haven’t you got snow and hail, for eg? Is it because they’re not rain? You’ve got to be consistent in your criteria for inclusion, otherwise it makes a nonsense of it all.

  17. JoeBlack says:

    What about dreach or maybe spent dreech? You’d say a dreech day because its been raining.

  18. JoeBlack says:

    Actually that’s maybe what Allan is trying to describe.

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  20. Peter Mitchell says:

    I was brought up in Dumbarton on the north bank of the Clyde we had a saying ‘the Juice is on’ for the rain most people from Partick to Helensburgh new this saying but my wife who’s from Paisley had no knowledge of this saying.

  21. S Ross says:

    Hale watter
    Or hail wa(i)t(t)er, a very heavy fall of rain, a downpour (Sc. 1825 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B., hyill waiter).
    Used in North east meaning it is coming down so incessantly that there are no gaps between the drops, that is whole water. The level after bucketing down (coming down as if someone is throwing buckets of water at you).

  22. S Ross says:

    Also dreep and dreepie
    3. “A steady fall of light rain” (Abd.9 1945; Fif. 1949 (per Abd.27)).
    Can also confirm hearin mizzle used interchangeably with smirr in both the north and south of Scotland. It’s the mist you get on hills that makes you wet when you walk through it but you cannot actually perceive rain falling as you would in a drizzle.

  23. naomi prior says:

    i think you are missing “tipping down” we used it a lot on the north west coast when i was growing up.

  24. Sharon Trew says:

    As a child i loved Sun Showers….a quick shower of rain in a hot sunny left a lovely smell. Mizzle was the kind of rain that hung in the air rather than seem to fall from the sky….my Ma would say..its mizzling outside youll be wet through! An Ulster childhood..

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