A Wintry Mix of Words

Jan 29, 2020 | Posted by Jennifer


I’ll be honest. Winter is not something I think of very often. Living in Florida, I typically think of winter as simply a situation those poor, unfortunate “Northerners” face. The closest I really get to the season occurs on those rare days when the highs for the day don’t exceed the sixties and the lows are a relatively comfortable forty to fifty degrees. On days like that, Floridians pull out all the stops to ward off the chill. From the deepest depths of the closet are pulled furry lined boots, the single heavy wool sweater or thick cotton sweatshirt on the shelf, and the latest jaunty beanie hat and fingerless mitts.

This last week, however, I got the opportunity to enjoy winter for real. I flew out to Kansas to spend some time with my dad and help him prepare his camper for a long journey back down to the Sunshine State. Did I mention that it was cold? Really cold? I shivered in my heaviest “Florida” coat as those sharp Kansas prairie winds drove temperatures down into the teens with wind chills in the negatives. The day before we left, a heavy, icy, snow sauntered in, and it was this same snow/ice/rainstorm that we chased in the truck all the way until we finally turned south in Missouri.

Did I mention to you that I loved it all? Yes, even my numb fingers and toes (for they were well and truly numb). My time in the deep freeze also made me think of wintry words. After all, I don’t often get the opportunity to enjoy a blustery, marble gray sky or the feeling of icy breath clustering in frozen droplets against a handknit scarf. I decided to do some digging once my fingers unthawed to see what words I could come up with that reflect winter. Here are just a few that I found.

Subnivean: “Sub” is a prefix that means below. “An” makes the word an adjective. The root of the word, nivea, comes from the Latin and means “snow white.” So putting it all together, “subnivean” is an adjective that means “beneath the white snow.”

Brumal: This word is another adjective. (Note the “al” at the end?) It also hales from Latin (“bruma”) and means relating to winter. A related word is “brumation,” which is the sluggish state that cold-blooded animals such as snakes and other reptiles experience when the mercury dips low in the thermometer.

Balaclava: This word, while not being quite as removed from the common vocabulary as the previous two words, has an interesting history. A balaclava is a type of snug knitted woolen cap that slides down over the head, protecting the head and the neck and only exposing the eyes. The name is derived from the port of Balaclava, which is a battle site of the Crimean War. It was extremely cold in that battle, so the British soldiers protected themselves from the cold using this garment.

Graupel: This word describes a specific type of snow. In this case, it refers to snow that falls as pellets.

Froideur: In my search for unique wintry words, I came across this one, a noun, that only reflects the theme. It doesn’t directly relate to physical cold but rather to emotional cold or coolness. If you have ever felt that someone had a “frosty” demeanor, you might be able to say that person had treated you with haughty “froideur.” The word is French and means “chill.”

Slud: Finally, I will leave you with a word that illustrates the types of roads Dad and I were driving on as we made our way towards the South. “Slud” refers to the skin of wet snow that seals up the tops of objects, grass, or ice. It seems fitting that this word comes from the Scandinavian word for slushy snow.

After a long but fun three-day drive, Dad and I finally arrived back in Florida this past weekend, although it felt like we dragged a bit of winter back with us. Today’s high is only predicted to reach sixty-five. I’m glad I’ve got my suitcase still sitting out and unpacked. I need to grab my gloves out of it to hopefully restore some feeling in my fingers! I can’t wait until it’s time to start looking up some seasonal vocabulary words for spring!


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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