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It’s raining; it’s pouring

Storm in NYC

Much, if not all, of the East Coast of the United States was subject to a good drenching last week, courtesy of Hurricane Irene (which might be viewed as an odd name for a storm, given that it shares an etymological root with irenic). Consequently, we who live in that area have been pummeled not only with precipitation, but also with words for such moisture.

Oxford Dictionaries Online provides a lovely vocabulary for describing our recent weather – there are 130 different words in this dictionary that have rain in their definition (and that’s before we get to any other kind of weather). While it may not have the same degree of historical breadth that the OED has, and therefore does not include more obscure words such as as impluvious (wet with rain), petrichor (the smell given off by the first rain following a long dry spell), and ombrifuge (something that provides shelter from the rain), it still contains more than enough rainy vocabulary to give voice to any storm you would ever care to encounter.

Here is a short list of some words relating to rain that do not have such widespread currency as those that the newscasters have been bandying about all this past week:

Dripstone – a molding over a door or window which deflects rain.

Freshet – the flood of a river from heavy rain or melted snow (probably from Old French freschete, diminutive of freis ‘fresh’).

Monkey’s wedding – Simultaneous rain and sunshine (perhaps based on Portuguese casamento de rapôsa ‘vixen’s wedding’, in the same sense).

Ombro- – relating to rain (from Greek ombros rain shower).

Ombrogenous – (of a bog or peat) dependent on rain for its formation.

Pluvial – relating to or characterized by rainfall (ultimately from Latin pluvia rain).

Verglas – a thin coating of ice or frozen rain on an exposed surface (from French verre glass + glas (now glace) ice).

Virga – a mass of streaks of rain appearing to hang under a cloud and evaporating before reaching the ground (from Latin virga rod, stripe).

You can explore these and other words related to meteorology in Oxford’s free online dictionary – from acid rain to zephyr.