How's the weather? Words across Europe to describe weather

Looking at words and phrases used in languages across Europe to describe weather

by
Adrian Murphy (Europeana Foundation)

Europe is a continent of complex and diverse geographies, with several different climatic zones and undoubtedly diverse weather across the region.

With changeable weather conditions across the continent, many unique words and phrases have developed describing weather. Let's take a look at these, and find some similarities between different countries and languages.

In Ireland, the beautiful expression 'a soft day' is used to describe a day of light, drizzling rain. If this is weather you particularly enjoy, you can declare it to be 'a grand soft day'.

Artists have been portraying stunning Dutch skies in paintings, drawings, photographs and more for centuries.

EXPLORE MORE: Cloud gallery

In some of these, we can see the Dutch expression 'een mager zonnetje', a pale powerless sun.

In Polish, the month of April is referred to in the phrase 'kwiecień plecień, bo przeplata trochę zimy, trochę lata': April is a plait, because it interweaves a little winter and a little summer.

Some expressions are more regional and local.

In the Erzgebirge region of Germany, the expression 'Dämse' is used for hot and humid conditions.

In Scotland, ‘dreich’ is used to describe dreary, bleak weather, while ‘haar’ is a sea fog specific to the west coast of Scotland and northern England.

EXPLORE MORE: Gallery of foggy weather

Only happy when it rains?

A number of languages have phrases to describe when it is really raining.

In English, it is 'raining cats and dogs', but nobody is really sure where the phrase comes from despite a number of potential origins. While in Catalan, it rains in bottles and barrels - 'plou a bots i barrals' - old words for large receptacles signifying a large amount of rain.

In Dutch, when there's an actual downpour, some say 'het houdt op met zachtjes regenen...' - 'it has stopped raining softly...' . The phrase was introduced by an Amsterdam writer, Simon Carmiggelt, famous for his irony. In Scotland, 'stoating' rain is so heavy, it bounces off the ground.

Both French and Dutch have more descriptive phrases for real downpours: 'il pleut des cordes' (it is raining ropes) and 'het regent pijpestelen' (it's raining drainpipes) - both describing the long shape of the raindrops during heavy rain.

EXPLORE MORE: Gallery of rainy weather

Beastly weather

Animals play a role in our language around weather, but sometimes in different ways.

In French, when it is cold, it is ‘un froid de canard’ - a duck’s cold. In English, wet weather is ‘good weather for ducks’.

In English, the hot height of summer is known as the dog days of summer'. That term is a loan translation from Latin 'dies caniculares' ('puppy days), which was a translated loan word from ancient Greek. In Finnish, ‘koiranilma’ is dog weather, when the weather is really bad - cold, windy, rainy. In French, those same weather conditions give us ‘un temps de chien’ - a dog’s weather. Both may originate from the times when dogs lived mostly outside our homes.

When the weather starts to improve, across Europe we start to spy swallows in the sky - though we shouldn't take just one swallow as a sign of a change in weather. In Polish, 'jedna jaskółka wiosny nie czyni' and in French, ‘une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps’, one swallow does not make spring.

But in English and Dutch, 'één zwaluw maakt nog geen zomer' one swallow does not make the summer - it seems the swallows come later for some of us.

EXPLORE MORE: Sunny weather gallery

What are your favourite weather words or phrases in your language? We'd love to hear more, let us know in the comments.

EXPLORE MORE: Gallery of stormy weather

Thanks to Ad Pollé, Aleksanda Strzelichowska, Antoine Issac, Ariadna Matas, Beth Daley, Fiona Mowat, Henning Scholz, Michelle Lewis and Valentine Charles for suggesting weather phrases.


This blog post is a part of the Europeana Common Culture project, which explores varied aspects of our shared cultural heritage across Europe.

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