25 Colloquial British Terms for Describing the Natural World


In his upcoming book Landmarks, Dr. Robert Macfarlane creates a sort of unofficial dictionary of words for describing our natural world. Some are disappearing, while others enjoy a lively existence only within the boundaries of a small community. As modern technical jargon replaces these old words for nature, the need to preserve the lexical quirks becomes more pressing.

Following a piece in The Guardian, Macfarlane asked for submissions of local terms from British readers and received a waterlog (if you will) of postcards, a few of which can be seen here alongside entries from his book. As you’ll see, they range from totally utilitarian to silly to perfectly poetic.

1. adnasju

The larger waves that follow smaller ones.

2. ammil

In Devon, sunlight on hoar frost.

3. blatter

In Yorkshire, a puddle; in Galloway, a heavy and noisy rain.

4. clag

“Cloud and rain settling down on the tops of the hills as a gale approaches.”

5. dumberclash

A brief and violent storm.

6. èit

“The practice of placing quartz stones in streams so that they sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn.”

7. fèith

Paths of water running through soil.

8. foisty

A dank, underground smell.

9. geevy

In Cornwall, a mixture of mist and drizzle.

10. glister

Squally weather.

11. hummerdrooze

An unidentifiable noise in the air.

12. jirglin

“Playing about with water.”

13. lightydark

“A word to describe the light occurring at the edge of darkness after a cold clear day. Invented by me (aged 11) walking home in the beautiful, undervalued Lancashire landscape of the country-side, in the evening.”

14. lumpenhole

A trench for farmyard waste.

15. moorie-caavie

An intense blizzard.

16. nab

In Sussex, the summit of a hill.

17. ootrogue

The undercurrent at the shore which drags sand out with it.

18. pirr

A light wind, “such as will make a cat’s paw on the water.”

19. riggwelter

A sheep on its back that can’t get up.

20. rionnach maoim

From Gaelic, shadows cast by cumulous clouds on the moorland “on a bright and windy day.”

21. shadowtackle

The ever-changing patterns on a woodland floor, caused by light and tree branches.

22. smeuse

A hole in the base of the hedge.

23. turdstool

A substantial cowpat.

24. wewire

In Essex, to move like foliage in the wind.

25. wimpling

The resistance caused by wind on a bird’s wing.