Ben's life-long interest in language extends to the richness of its expressions, phrases, idioms, and quotations. They give it such variety!
'Tis the Season for Snowy Sayings
Winter is a time when nature rests. Bears hibernate, deciduous trees and shrubs shrug off their leaves, and people seek warmth and comfort during the cold and grey days.
As the winter days seem to drag by—each one greyer and gloomier than the last—we look for little moments of light and cheeriness. The first dusting of snowfall, the winter solstice and the Christmas holiday punctuate the season.
Countless sayings, idioms and adages have been generated from the impact of winter seasons on generations long past, and many still have relevant messages for those of us over-wintering today. In this article, we'll explore winter's treasure trove of linguistic peculiarity.
The Fire Is Winter's Fruit
Origin: Arabian proverb
Meaning: The warmth of a fire is invaluable during the bleak days of winter.
The Fireside Is the Tulip Bed of a Winter's Day
Origin: Persian proverb
Meaning: This variation of the above saying uses the metaphor of spring flowers to express the value of a warm fire during the cold of winter.
One Kind Word Can Warm Three Winter Months
Origin: Japanese proverb
Meaning: A kind word of encouragement can be worth quite a lot. The value of kindness cannot be overstated.
The Bee Works All Summer and Eats Honey All Winter
Meaning: being industrious during a time of plenty and building a store or reserve can make the challenging times ahead much easier and more enjoyable.
The Grasshoppers Sang All Summer and Starved All Winter
Meaning: This adage conveys the same message as the phrase above but emphasizes the opposite possibility. It is all well and good to enjoy the times of plenty, but if one fails to plan ahead and set resources aside, the good times will eventually come to an end, and one will not be prepared to subsist during the challenging times to come.
He Who Wants Yoghurt in Winter Must Carry a Cow in His Pocket
Origin: Turkish proverb
Meaning: If you want to achieve something challenging, you need to be prepared to struggle to obtain it.
Brace Yourself; Winter Is Coming
Origin: This saying has been around for ages but was made famous recently by the television series Game of Thrones.
Meaning: Prepare yourself ahead of an upcoming event or activity.
Example sentence: "Syllabus week is over, so brace yourself—winter is coming."
Frost on the Shortest Day Bodes a Bad Winter
Meaning: The shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is the winter solstice, which occurs on either 21st or 22nd December. The saying suggests that if it is frosty on this day, then it will remain bitterly cold for the remainder of winter.
Winter of Discontent
Origin: This phrase has its origin in Shakespeare's King Richard III, from the line: "Now is the winter of our discontent." This idiom became commonplace when used to describe the Winter of 1979 when strikes broke out across England.
Meaning: A period of hardship and suffering
Buy Straw Hats in Winter
Origin: This imperative is reputed to have its origin with the 19th-century American investor Russel Stage.
Meaning: Purchase something (often a stock) when it is for sale at a low price so that you can profit when its value rises.
Example sentence: "We did well with those start-up stocks. They took a little while to move, but once they started moving, they blossomed. I guess it was a case of buying straw hats in winter."
In the Dead of Winter
Origin: 16th-century idiom
Meaning: This phrase draws upon the winter months' lack of growth, life, and activity. It refers to the midpoint of the winter season, typically the darkest and coldest period of the year.
Example sentence: "It was a cold, dark time. In fact, it was the dead of winter, and all I wanted to do was to curl up by the fire and keep warm."
Origin: Syracuse, New York, United States (date of origin unknown)
Meaning: A beat-up car (whose quality is of little concern to its driver) used for driving in harsh winter weather
Example sentence: "I keep my Porsche in the garage during this time of year. I use my old winter rat instead once the weather takes a turn for the worse."
Winter Either Bites With Its Teeth or Lashes With Its Tail
Origin: Montenegrin proverb
Meaning: The beginning and end of the winter season tend to be the harshest in terms of weather.
To Winter On
Meaning: To rely on (as in a stockpile or store of food or supplies) during the winter months
Example sentence: "We have filled our store cupboards with tinned foods, and our freezer is full to bursting with joints of meat and vegetables; we will surely have enough to winter on."
Origin: Icy winds often coincide with the flowering of blackthorn. These turn the hedgerows white.
Meaning: A cold snap
To Winter Over
Meaning: To endure or tolerate the harsh winter season
An Old Man Loved Is a Winter With Flowers
Origin: German proverb
Meaning: Finding love in old age is rare and special, much like finding flowers during winter.
There are two seasons in Scotland: June and Winter.
— Billy Connolly (Scottish Comedian)
Plant Carrots in January and You'll Never Have to Eat Carrots
Meaning: If a crop is planted too early (or late), it will not come to fruition.
A Green Christmas Makes a Fat Churchyard
Origin: Danish proverb
Meaning: Overly mild winter weather can lead to the spread of illness if more people than usual gather together.
If Grain Grows in January, It Will Be a Year of Great Need
Meaning: If a crop's growth cycle is initiated too early in the season, its harvest may be underwhelming.
Winter is nature’s way of saying 'Up yours!'
— Robert Byrne
February Fills Dyke, Black or White
Origin: This adage is based on the observation that ditches tend to be either full of snow of full or rainwater at this time of year.
Meaning: February is likely to be a damp month due to either snow or rain.
Better a Wolf in the Fold Than a Fine February
Origin: Chloe Rhodes, the author of One for Sorrow, cites the following writing of Virgil (circa 40 BCE):
"Fell as the wolf is to the folded flock,
Rain to ripe corn, Sirocco to the trees,
The wrath of Amaryllis is to me."
Amaryllis is the name of a shepherdess.
Meaning: At first glance, this seems a strange thing to wish for. After all, who wouldn't want beautiful weather in February? In times past, farmers were reliant on a cooler start to the year. Too much warmth too early in the year put their crops at risk of premature growth and consequent exposure to the late frosts that often occur in early spring.
Winter Forecasts: Adages That Use Nature's Cues to Predict Winter's Outcome
To this day, Americans look to Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog in Pennsylvania, to determine whether there will be an early spring or a prolonged winter. The following idioms use similar factors to make predictions about winter weather.
Seasonal Cues From Wildlife
- If anthills are high in July, winter will be snowy.
- If wasps build their nests high, winter will be harsh and long.
Winter Cues From Weather Patterns
- If a cold August follows a hot July, it foretells a winter hard and dry.
- If the first week in August is unusually warm, the coming winter will be snowy and long.
- For every fog in August, there will be a snowfall the following winter.
Inter-Season Predictions for Future Months
- If it thunders in February, it will frost in April.
- If February gives much snow, a fine summer it doth fore-show.
- Dictionary of English Idioms, 2002, Penguin Reference. (This is a useful and well-structured resource.)
- Jack, Albert. "Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep," 2005, Penguin Books. (This is an excellent read full of in-depth research into idioms' origins).
- Oliver, Harry. "March Hares and Monkeys' Uncles," 2005, Metro Publishing Ltd. (This book provides a fascinating insight into phrases we often take for granted.)
- Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, 2000, Oxford University Press. (This is a useful resource, although the ordering by alphabet occasionally involved more page turning than I prefer when searching for particular themes.)
- Rhodes, Chloe. "One For Sorrow." 2011. Michael O'Mara Books Limited. (This is a beautifully written and captivating collection of traditional sayings.)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Lorna Lamon on November 16, 2019:
Such an interesting and intriguing article just perfect for this time of year. A few I had heard of, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this enlightening read. Thank you for sharing.
Kari Poulsen from Ohio on November 16, 2019:
I never realized there were so many idioms about winter. I enjoyed reading this. Some are filled with wisdom, while others are humorous.