Get cozy with these old-fashioned winter words

3 min read

The weather outside may very well be frightful where you are, but before you hunker down in front of the fire, why not try getting inspired by winter instead? We’ve dug deep into Old Man Winter’s archives to round up traditional words and expressions related to the coldest season of the year. Try bringing one back to freshen up your perspective during these dark wintry days.


If you’re throwing on all the layers, the chances are it’s gelid — or intensely cold — outside. This early 17th-century word stems from the Latin “gelu,” meaning frost. On a similar phonetic note, the word algid means chilly, although it’s most often used today by doctors, referring to someone with an abnormally low temperature.  


What makes something cold? That may be up for debate, but you can label it frigorific to suggest it is causing or producing cold. Anything from an A/C unit in the summer, to a gusty breeze in the winter, to an icy ex-boyfriend, in fact, can be frigorific.  


Used in the 1600s, this evocative word was used to describe freshly melted snow. In other words, winter’s soup!


This mash-up word is derived from slush and posh, meaning soft, slushy mud or snow. The posh part isn’t referring to being a fancy pants, but, instead, comes from an archaic definition of the word, meaning a slushy mass.  


If you’ve ever heard the traditional festive tune, “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” you may have asked yourself … what is a wassail? You may assume it’s like caroling, but it really means visiting someone’s home to enjoy a cup of wassail (a drink made from mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, and spices). Consider it a Middle Ages “hygge” social gathering.


This warm-hearted word was coined by 1600s dictionary writer Henry Cockeram and means “the warmth of sun in winter.” The next time you feel some rays on your face, channel this poetic, if underused, word.


Before Groot and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the word grue was mostly known (but rarely used) as a verb meaning to shiver with cold. It’s an Old English/German word that, not coincidentally, has a similar vibe to the word gruesome. Appropriate for how some winter warriors may feel after shoveling their driveway and shivering the whole way.


Many of us may think of winter weather as brutal, but flip a letter, and you’ve got brumal, meaning belonging to winter. It’s related to the original word for the winter solstice, "brūma." Niveous and heimal mean similar things, although niveous is more specifically about things "belonging to the snow."  


Not every word on this list is completely archaic — onding is a regionalism still used in parts of Scotland and Northern England. It refers to a heavy snowfall. Bonus: It can also be used to describe a heavy rainfall.  


On the other end of the spectrum from onding, a skift is a light fall of snow (or rain). Think: Flurries that flutter around or flakes that seem to melt before they hit the ground. It’s thought to come from the Scottish verb “skiff,” meaning to lightly move across a surface while barely touching it.


Our teeth chatter when we’re cold (or scared), but a few hundred years ago, you might have said say that your teeth hagger when exposed to subzero temperatures.  


This 18th century word feels phonetically on point for its definition of "a stuffy head cold." Like a few others on this list, it stems from the Scottish dialect.  


This 18th-century expression refers to any weather condition where snow lays on the ground — from light dustings to heavily packed mid-winter snow.

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