10 Old Words For Winter Ailments

Use these words this winter.
Use these words this winter. / Moyo Studio/E+/Getty Images, Justin Dodd (speech bubble)

Winter is coming—and if the bad weather catches up with you, you might find these 10 cold weather and winter ailment words indispensable.

1. Meldrop

Derived from Scandinavian roots, meldrop was originally a drop of foam from a horse’s mouth as it chomped on the bit—the metal crossbar held in a horse’s mouth, the Old Norse word for which was mel. According to the English Dialect Dictionary, however, it came to have additional meanings in 16th-century Scots: Meldrop can be used to refer to both a drip of water from the tip of an icicle and a pendulous droplet on the tip of a person’s nose.

2. Snirl

Besides being a long-forgotten dialect word for the nose—or for the metal hoop pierced through a bull’s nostrils—snirl or snurl is an old 18th-century dialect word for a stuffy head cold.

3. Kiffle

To kiffle is to cough because you have a tickle in the throat. To hosk, meanwhile, is to cough harshly or painfully; to boke is to cough violently, according to the English Dialect Dictionary; and to wirken is to cough or choke, likely because you’re eating too quickly (a word worth remembering around the Christmas dinner table). A tissick, likewise, is a dry, tickling cough.

4. Fox’s Cough

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this is a hoarse, scratching cough that refuses to clear up, apparently so-called because the fox’s call is so raucous and guttural.

5. Sternutament

Sternutation is a 16th-century medical word for the act of sneezing, which makes sternutament an equally ancient word for a single sneeze. As sneezing goes, the dictionary has quite a rich vocabulary to fall back on: chissup, atissha, and neazle are all long-forgotten and wonderfully onomatopoeic words for sneezes (with neazle predominately meaning to make the noise of a sneeze); the adjective ptarmic describes anything that makes you sneeze; and even the word sneeze itself is of interest, as it was originally spelled fnese before its initial F was misread as a long S in the 15th century.

6. Awvish

Probably derived from a corruption of half or half-ish, awvish describes someone who isn’t exactly unwell, but who isn’t not feeling their best. A similar and equally evocative term from the 18th century was frobly-mobly, or fobly-mobly, which the lexicographer Francis Grose defined as meaning “indifferently well” in his Glossary of Provincial and Local Words in 1839.

7. Presenteeism

The opposite of absenteeism is presenteeism—a term coined in the early 1930s for the act of turning up to work, despite being unwell.

8. Headwarch

Waerc was an Old English word for pain (which derives from the same ancient root as work). That makes headwarch an equally ancient word for a headache, which only survived into recent decades in a handful of dialects from the northern counties of England. If you’re after something a bit more formal than that, however, there’s always cephalalgy, an early 1600s word for a headache coined in the early 1600s; when things get really serious, there’s always galea—a Latin word for helmet—which, according to one 1706 dictionary, refers to a headache so-called “because it takes in the whole head.”

9. Kink-Haust

As a verb, kink can be used to mean “to cough convulsively,” while a haust or hoast is a single cough or tickle in the throat. Put together, those words combine to form a dialect word, kink-haust (or kinkhost), which according to the 19th-century book Vocabulary of East Anglia was once used to refer to a combined “violent cold and cough.”

10. Alysm

And finally, if some or all of the above apply to you, it might be worth remembering this obscure term from psychology and psychiatry: The restless boredom or ennui that comes from being unwell or confined to your bed is called alysm.