Insights October 13, 2021

Weather chit-chat, a conversation code

Living Word
By Living Word

Conversations about the weather can make an important part of culture. Brits talk about it all the time, Scots in particular joke about the lack of summer, and Welsh people have numerous expressions for rain.

A few years back, Linda Geddes wrote a piece for the BBC on why Brits are so obsessed with the weather. It revealed that 94% of respondents had talked about the weather in the past six hours, and 38% had done so in the past 60 minutes. Social anthropologist Kate Fox, who conducted the study, said: “This means at almost any moment in this country, at least a third of the population is either talking about the weather, has already done so or is about to do so.”

Based on her research, Fox argues that this type of conversation is less about the weather and more of a code. “Weather talk is a kind of code that we have evolved to help us overcome social inhibitions and actually talk to one another.” She means that some use weather talk as an icebreaker, others to fill awkward silences or divert the conversation, or perhaps to gauge other people’s mood. “Depending on their response to your weather greeting, you can tell if someone is in the mood for a chat, or is feeling grumpy and negative.”

The Brits follow some unwritten rules in their weather chit-chat, according to the BBC article. Importantly, the weather topic should be introduced as a question, such as “Raining again?” and the person answering must agree or else the person might be taken aback – a breach of etiquette, in other words.

British storms, Scottish summer, Welsh rain

In a study of words and phrases most likely to be used to describe the weather, it turned out that the most common English expressions are “it’s raining cats and dogs”, “blowing a gale” and “throwing it down”. Other weather phrases popular among Brits are “the calm before the storm” and “a storm is brewing”, and for sunnier temperatures “the sun has got his hat on” and “not a cloud in the sky”.

In a piece on Scottish quotes about the weather, we learn that there, too, talk about the weather is an important part of culture, and “everyone has something to say about it, from poets, to comedians, to actors”. For instance, a favourite Scottish expression is “there are two seasons in Scotland: June and winter” and some people jokingly say that “I love summer in Scotland; it’s my favourite day of the year”.

In Wales, there are many descriptive words for rain. “What is perhaps most surprising is that most of them are single descriptive words for almost all states of precipitation from drizzle to pouring and worse,” writes Paul Brown. In Welsh, there are different ways of describing “pouring very quickly” and “big spaced drops”. The English expression “it’s raining cats and dogs” has a colourful Welsh equivalent too: “It’s raining old women and sticks.”