Fifty words for rain

I don’t usually shunt other articles into the word of the week but the BBC has asked why the British don’t have fifty words for rain (AND, apparently, the Inuit don’t have 50 words for snow, which is a great disappointment to me).

More than 50 words for precipitation

I was a bit sceptical of this and decided to test it. This is my list. I have not used any vulgar terms, which I could have resorted to within the rules I had drawn up (I get to choose). I even prevented myself using variation on the same root word such as drench, drenching and drencher.

  1. bucketing-down
  2. cats-and-dogs
  3. cloudburst
  4. cloud-opening
  5. deluge
  6. downpour
  7. dowse/douse/dousing
  8. drench/drenching/drencher
  9. drizzle
  10. drop
  11. dump
  12. fall
  13. flood
  14. gush
  15. hammering-down
  16. heap
  17. heaven-opening
  18. heavy rain
  19. hurley-burley
  20. inundation
  21. lashing-down
  22. mizzle
  23. monsoon
  24. pattering
  25. peeing-down
  26. pelter/pelting-down
  27. pleasure-and-pain/ache and pain (Cockney rhyming slang)
  28. pluvium
  29. pour/pouring
  30. precipitation
  31. Scotch mist
  32. shower
  33. soak
  34. soaker
  35. souse
  36. spate
  37. spit
  38. splash
  39. spluttering
  40. spot
  41. sprinkle
  42. squall
  43. storm
  44. stream
  45. tempest
  46. throwing
  47. thundershower
  48. torrent/torrential rain
  49. waterspout
  50. wet

Dialect words for rain

Even the BBC article recognised that the many different English dialects have their own sets of precipitation words. English dialects in England can be categorised into seven major groups: Received English (“the Queen’s English”), Northern, East Midlands, West Midlands, East Anglia, Southern, West Country and Highland English. Many have their own words for rain.

  • Bange (East Anglia), a sort of dampness in the air, light rain
  • Bluffart (Scottish)
  • Cow quaker
  • Hig (England)
  • Hurley Burley (England)
  • Plash (Northumbrian)
  • Raining forks’tiyunsdown’ards (Lincolnshire) like it’s raining pitchforks (tines downwards)

The Slang Dictionary, by John Camden Hotten of 1913 has a couple of interesting words:

  • Parney comes from the Gypsy pané for rain
  • Dowry, meaning a lot of rain, was a shortening of a dowry of parney

Australia and the US rain words

Australia also has regional differences in word use.  The Macquarie Dictionary recognises “knock-em-down rains” from the Northern Terrritory which refers to:

knocking down the tips of the spear grass that has just started turning brown at this time of year, the rain knocks the seedy heads off for next year’s spear.

We shouldn’t forget that the US has different dialects as well. These things are hard to define and categorise but some suggest the US has between 3 and 25. A couple of US terms for heavy rain are:

  • gully-washer
  • frog-strangler
  • goose-drowner

There are also many other different English dialects around the world (one estimate is 160). So the list can go on well past 50 words in England specifically and in English generally …