Word of the day: nippy

After an Indian summer – a period of warm weather in autumn, a time when it’s usually pretty cold – that seemed to last for ever, London has suddenly turned really cold. Over the last few days, temperatures have plummeted and at night it’s regularly dropping below zero out there. It’s so cold that there’s a dusting (a thin layer) of frost on the garden grass when I come down in the morning to make coffee. When I pop out to get the milk from my front doorstep, it’s so cold I can see my breath and I have to rub my hands together to keep them warm. When my kids are getting ready to go to school, I remind them: Wrap up warm or you’ll freeze to death out there. It’s proper hat and scarf weather!

And, of course, like lots of English people, I live in quite an old house. Our place dates back to the middle of the 19th century, so is over 150 years old. This gives the house character, but it also means that it’s both difficult and expensive to heat properly. Gas prices have gone through the roof recently – they’ve gone up a lot; and the whole place is quite draughty (/ˈdrɑːfti/) – it’s a bit uncomfortable because of all the cold wind that blows into it. Still, at least we’ve got a lovely open fire in the front room, which warms the place up a bit and makes it nice and cosy.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about the many different ways we talk about cold weather in English. When we pass neighbours in the street or when we walk off the street into a shop, one of the most common things we say at times like this is Cor! It’s a bit nippy out there, isn’t it! We don’t really expect much of a reply to this – perhaps an I know! or a Tell me about it! but that’s about it.

Other common things you might hear, all of which basically mean the same thing, are:

It’s freezing out there.

It’s a bit parky out there today. 

It’s bitter out today, isn’t it!

Wrap up! It’s raw out there today! 

It’s Baltic out there! (Presumably because the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – are believed to be very cold!)

and perhaps my favourite, which requires some explaining:

It’s brass monkeys out there!

Brass is a kind of metal, and apparently during the 19th century, it was common for tourists returning from the Far East to bring as a souvenir three brass monkeys – representing the idea of hearing no evil, seeing no evil, and speaking no evil! The phrase above is a shortened version of the rather rude It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, which you still sometimes hear in its entirety, although I’ve also heard more polite versions such as cold enough to freeze the nose / tail off . . . as well! You’re safe just saying BRASS MONKEYS instead of FREEZING though and none of the dictionary definitions suggest it’s in any way offensive!

Right. I’m off to make a nice cup of tea and warm up a bit!

Want to learn about British language and culture? We have just the course for you!

  • What’s the coldest it usually gets where you live?
  • Do you prefer cold or hot weather? Why?
  • What’s the most extreme weather you’ve ever experienced?
  • Do you like the idea of living in an old house? Why? / Why not?

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5 Responses

  1. Claudia says:

    Great! Very educative. I love learning about these topics.

  2. anuta says:

    now i see why you were in your coat some videos ago

  3. Jo says:

    You can easily tell who’s British in the crowd. It’s cold, most people would wear winter jackets but you put on a light jackets or sometimes just tees:)

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