As the British are well known in the world for constantly speaking about the weather, one expert has claimed that we no longer do it enough. Robert MacFarlane, a Cambridge academic, says the language we use to describe the weather and the world around us has narrowed – and he’s determined to reverse the process. While some imaginative phrases such as ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ are still in use, many others have died out and Mr MacFarlane has spent two years researching them. These ‘dead’ words describing the great weather will now be celebrated in an exhibition he has curated at William Wordsworth’s childhood home in Cockermouth. It will use pictures to describe words drawn from dialects across the UK.
Wordsworth, the Lake District poet, wrote extensively about the weather in the countryside around his home in Cumbria. Mr Macfarlane, a nature writer who teaches English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge said, ‘I spent two years gathering as many of our place terms and nature words as possible from more than 20 languages and dialects around Britain and Ireland and then releasing them back into imaginative circulation. Without words a landscape can easily become a “blandscape” generalised, indifferent, unobserved.’
The exhibition follows his 2015 book Landmarks which explored dialects connected to nature, terrain and the weather. The photographs accompanying the work were taken by Mr MacFarlane’s parents, Rosamund and John MacFarlane.
According to a 2015 survey, 94% of us have had a conversation about the weather in the past six hours – but we are unlikely to have used any of Mr MacFarlane’s words. They include shreep, an East Anglian word for mist clearing slowly and sunschald, a Sussex word for a patch of sunlight on water.
He has also revived expressions describing other , less natural phenomena including gurrick, a Cumbrian word for a man-made pile of stones used to guide travellers, and witches knickers, an Irish expression referring to plastic snagged in a tree,
The British language is rich in dialect words which unfortunately are seldom used now. However, the good news is that a dictionary of a treasury of disappearing and lost English dialect words by David Crystal, published in 2015 by MacMillan, fills the gap and contains some lovely old gems of the English language from all over the British Isles, worth noting down and making them live again for a new generation.
Descriptive words nourish the mind in their variety and down to earth approach to nature.