Festive “Wintertide” Words We No Longer Use

Friday, December 23 min read

Chilly temperatures, throngs of holiday shoppers, and festive family meals can only mean one thing: The winter season — or should we say, wintertide — is upon us. “Wintertide” is a 12th-century word synonymous with “wintertime,” though “wintertide” is probably only seen in literature now. Of course, this isn’t the only archaic winter-season word that’s been lost to the history books. Check out some of these antiquated words for gift-giving, cold weather, and even overeating, to elevate your winter repertoire.


The next time you’re walking in the snow, you can use the word “algid” to describe how you’re feeling — cold. This 17th-century word likely first appeared in Henry Cockeram’s The English Dictionarie of 1623 to mean “chill with cold.” Today, “algid” is still found in some modern dictionaries and can be used as a synonym for “frigid” or “arctic,” which makes sense — it comes from the Latin word algēre, meaning “to feel cold.” However, this once-wintry word is more closely linked with the medical field today. Doctors use “algid” as a term to describe a very sick person with cold, clammy skin and low blood pressure.


While it looks like it should be a rude word, “crapulence” is actually a perfectly apt term for holiday parties. This archaic adjective describes a lack of restraint while eating or drinking that ultimately causes headache or illness (holiday dinners, anyone?). It’s been part of English since the mid-17th century and came from the Latin word crapula, meaning “excessive drinking.”


Millions of people will experience this every winter. “Ninguid” (or “ningid”) means “where much snow is.” It was published in Thomas Blount’s Glossographia in 1661, but it’s unclear when it was first coined. Its root, the Latin nivalis, meaning “snow,” also gives us the word “nival,” meaning “a place of perpetual snow,” as in very high elevations or northern regions.


Most will know the feeling of the warm sun on their face during a cold winter day, and “apricity” describes exactly that. Though it’s no longer in most modern dictionaries, it was likely first recorded in Henry Cockeram’s dictionary in the early 17th century. Its entry reads: “Apricitie: The warmness of the Sunne in winter.” It was likely created from the Latin term apricitas, meaning “sunniness” or “sunshine.” It’s closely related to “apricate,” another obsolete term that means “to bask in the sun.”


One of the hallmarks of the holiday season is gift-giving. Though this word is not found in many dictionaries today, “doniferous” appeared centuries ago in English to mean “gift-bearing.” It’s been around since at least 1677 (and probably earlier), when it was printed in an early English dictionary by Elisha Coles.


If something is related to winter, it’s “brumal.” The 16th-century word is seen in early English dictionaries, including Cockeram’s, where it meant “of or belonging to winter.” It’s rarely used today, but is still included in some modern dictionaries as an adjective for “indicative of winter.” It can be seen throughout history and literature, such as in Frederick William Wallace’s 1920 book, “The Viking Blood,” in the line, “On a brumal November day, the Sarmania was to sail on her first trip under the Sutton house-flag.” The word comes from the similar Latin term brumalis (“bruma” means “winter”).


Many people have a penchant for giving to charity during the winter season. There are various words for this, but a popular term in the past was “alms,” a noun denoting money, food, or other donations given to those in need. It’s been around since at least 1000 CE, when it was used in Middle English as “almes.” It was ultimately derived from the Late Latin and Greek eleēmosýnē, meaning “compassion.”


This synonym for “frozen” dates back to the 13th century as an alteration of froren in Middle English. It came from the Old English word frēosan, “to freeze.” Irish fantasy writer Lord Dunsany used “frore” in his 1912 short-story collection, “The Book of Wonder,” in the line, “Her beauty was as still sunsets of bitter evenings when all the world is frore, a wonder and a chill.”

Featured image credit: Sam Edwards/ iStock

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