A yowe-tremmle—literally an “ewe-tremble”—is an old Scottish dialect word for a week of unusually cold or rainy weather beginning in the final few days in June that is literally cold enough to make the season’s freshly-sheared sheep “tremmle,” or shiver.
Depending on what the weather is like where you are, this could be the perfect word to add to your vocabulary. But even if you’re currently enjoying a bout of sunshine, or enduring a sudden downpour of rain, the most obscure corners of the English language have precisely the right word for you.
Presumably derived from an even older French dialect word, armogan is a 19th-century naval slang name for fine weather—in particular, the perfect weather for traveling or starting a journey.
This word, pronounced “Benji,” is an old southeast English dialect word meaning “overcast” or “threatening rain.” According to one theory, it might derive from an earlier word, benge, meaning “to drink to excess.”
To blenky means “to snow very lightly.” It’s probably derived from blenks, an earlier 18th-century word for ashes or cinders.
4. Bows of Promise
Cairies are swiftly moving clouds. An old Scots dialect word, cairies derives from cairy (a Scots pronunciation of “carry”), a local name for a burden or a load to be conveyed.
This is an old Irish-English word for the perfect weather conditions in which to dry clothes. Probably related to an identical Scots word for an insatiable thirst (or for an insatiable drinker), drouth was borrowed into American English in the 19th century, where it eventually became another name for a drought.
If the weather flenches, then it looks like it might improve later on, but never actually does.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, if the weather is foxy then it’s “misleadingly bright”—or, in other words, sunny and clear, but freezing cold.
If, on the other hand, the weather is gleamy then it’s intermittently sunny, or as one 19th-century glossary put it, “fitful and uncertain.”
A gleen is a sudden burst of warm sunshine. Dating back to the 17th century (if not earlier), it’s probably related to an earlier Scandinavian word, glene, for a clear patch of sky.
In addition to meaning “to run around frantically,” halta-dance is a heat haze.
This is an old northern English word for long, thin streaks of cloud traditionally supposed to forecast rain. It literally means “chicken scratches.”
Hunch-weather is an old 18th century name for weather—like drizzle or strong wind—that’s bad enough to make people hunch over when they walk.
There’s an old myth that Saint Lawrence of Rome was martyred by being burnt alive on a red-hot gridiron. Although it’s doubtful that this is true (a more likely explanation is that the Latin announcement of his death, passus est, “he suffered,” was misread as assus est, “he was roasted”), Saint Lawrence’s gruesome death has long been the subject of folk tales and works of art. He’s now considered the patron saint of cooks and restaurateurs (for obvious reasons), and the boy’s name Lawrence has been an American dialect word for a shimmering heat haze since at least the early 1900s.
15. Mare’s Tails
Mare’s tails are cirrus clouds—long, thin wisps of cloud very high up in the sky—that are traditionally said to “point” toward fine weather.
A single sunbeam that breaks through a thick cloud can also be called a messenger.
Moke is an old northern English word for the mesh part of a fishing net, from which is derived the word mokey (or mochy), describing dull, dark, or hazy weather conditions.
18. Monkey’s Wedding
In South African slang, a monkey’s wedding is a “sun-shower,” or a period of alternating (or simultaneous) sunshine and rain. No one is quite sure where this expression comes from: One theory claims that it could derive from an earlier phrase, monkey’s wedding-breakfast, meaning “a state of confusion,” or that it could be a vague translation of an even older Portuguese saying, casamento de raposa—literally “a vixen’s wedding”—that was likewise used to describe a sunny shower of rain.
This is an old word from the far north of Scotland for a hazy halo of cloud around the moon at night that was supposedly a sign of bad weather to come.
20. Queen’s Weather
In 1851, Charles Dickens wrote that “the sky was cloudless; a brilliant sun gave to it that cheering character which—from the good fortune Her Majesty experiences whenever she travels or appears publicly—has passed into a proverb.” The “proverb” in question here is actually the expression queen’s weather, a 19th-century nickname for sunshine, derived from Queen Victoria’s reputation for always seeming to bring fine weather with her on her official visits.
Pikels are heavy drops or sheets of rain. The word pikel itself is an old Lancashire dialect name for a pitchfork, while the local saying “to rain pikels with the tines downwards” means to rain very heavily indeed.
22. and 23. Smuir and Blind Smuir
Smuir is an old Scots word meaning “choke” or “smother,” which by extension also came to be used to refer to thick, stiflingly hot weather. A blind smuir, meanwhile, is a snow drift.
Sugar-weather is a 19th-century Canadian word for a period of warm days and cold nights—the perfect weather conditions to start the sap flowing in maple trees.
This is a 17th-century Scots word for a single glint of sunshine …
… and sunwade is an old Yorkshire word for a haze of cloud around the sun.
This is an old southeast English word meaning “sultry” or “humid.” If the sky looks swullocking, then it looks like there’s a thunderstorm on its way.
29. and 30. Twirlblast and Twirlwind
Both twirlblast and twirlwind are old 18th-century names for tornados.
These are small rainclouds hanging individually below a larger bank of cloud above.
Gaw is an old word for a drainage channel or a gutter, the U-shaped cross-section of which is the likely origin of the word wethergaw—an old Scots nickname for a rainbow. According to the Scottish Mountainering Club Journal, it can also mean “[a] glimpse of light and beauty between preceding and following days of gloom and unloveliness.”
A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2022.