January 2019


Stop it, it’s not rude. I’m a British person, and there’s one national stereotype which I don’t mind admitting is true – we do love to talk about the weather (but we don’t all have bad teeth *shakes fist at world*). With snow falling/forecast for lots of us this week, I thought I’d have a look at some wintry words. So, let’s get on with it, shall we? ‘Frigorific’ is an adjective which means to make something cold. So a fridge is frigorific. And my basement flat is also frigorific (I’m wearing fingerless gloves as I type this).

Frigorific first appeared in the 1600s, and shares its etymological roots with ‘refrigerate’ – they both come from the Latin ‘frigus’ for cold. If you like your words with even more syllables, you’ll be pleased to hear that an alternative form of frigorific is ‘frigorifical’.

So next time you’re speaking to a random stranger in the gym/shop/office about the weather, instead of saying it’s freezing, you can tell them it’s frigorific today. They might run away from you though.

(Bonus word: I know, I spoil you. While I was investigating winter words, I also came across ‘sitzmark’. This is the name of the indentation a skier makes in the snow when they fall over backwards. With their arse. In case that wasn’t obvious.)


Yep, I went there. Even though I’m concerned that writing about the etymology of the word etymology might rip a hole in the space time continuum and plunge us all, screaming, into a black abyss…

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there. So, I’m sure you know what this means. It’s the study of the origin and history of words, as well as how their meaning has changed over time. So the etymology of a word (something I bang on about all the time in these posts) means the origin of a particular word.

The word etymology comes from the Greek word ‘etumología’. This comes from ‘étumon’, which means ‘true sense’ or ‘truth’, and ‘-logia’ which means ‘the study of’. So the literal translation of it is ‘the study of truth’. Which is nice.

There’s a lovely quote about etymology from author Robert Macfarlane in his book ‘Landmarks’ [note from me: I realise this is also at the top of this page. Sorry. But it’s really nice.] (about the relationship between words and landscapes):

‘Etymology illuminates – a mundane word is suddenly starlit.’


(Bonus word: if you’re talking about the origin of a place name – as I’m sure you often do – and you fancy being a bit pretentious, you can tell whoever you’re with that you’re discussing its ‘toponymy’. Ooh, get you.)


You probably already know what this means – mycology is the study of fungi. I’ve chosen it as the WOTW (as no one calls it) in honour of my sister, who’s a little bit of an amateur mycologist herself. Also because mushrooms are super interesting (no, really), and I want to blow your mind with some fungi-facts.

So, etymology-wise, ‘mycology’ is pretty straightforward – ‘mukēs’ is Greek for ‘fungus’ and ‘-logia’ means ‘study’. But for many years mycology was treated as a branch of botany, when fungi are actually evolutionarily more closely related to animals than plants. In fact, on a cellular level, they’re more similar to humans than plants (WTF?! And what does this mean for the vegans?).

Here are some more mush-facts.

  • Forget the blue whale – the largest organism on earth is the honey mushroom. There’s one in Oregon that measures more than TWO MILES across (you can find out more about this parasitic beast here.

  • There’s a mushroom in Hawaii that apparently causes instant orgasms in woman. You just have to smell it. *books ticket to Hawaii*

  • According to one article I read, we’re all pronouncing ‘fungi’ wrong – scientists actually prefer ‘fun-juy’ (although I don’t really understand how to pronounce ‘juy’, but hey ho). I think this is just because the mycologists are fed up with being called ‘fun guys’ all the time by the other science people. 

  • Mushrooms might well save the world one day. They’re a great food source – they grow really fast on pretty much anything, and don’t need sunlight (if you’ve ever lived anywhere with damp, you’ve probably seen this firsthand). And they can even absorb oil spills, which they turn into a type of fungal sugar.

The photo below shows my sister’s first mushroom crop. She took these pictures over the space of four days which shows how fast they grow (I was genuinely concerned that she might get smothered in her sleep by them).



A galanthophile is someone who collects, or just really, really likes, snowdrops. It comes from the Greek name for the flower which is ‘galanthus’, and translates to ‘milk flower’. Which isn’t as nice as ‘snowdrop’, but I guess there’s probably more milk than snow in Greece.

Snowdrops aren’t native to the UK, but no one knows when or where they came here. It was probably around 1770-something, although it could have been a few hundred years earlier. So that’s not a very useful snowdrop-fact, sorry. Here’s a better one – there are more than 2,500 varieties of snowdrop and some of them can grow up to 30cm high. The Victorians thought they signified death and it was seen as bad luck to have them in the house (that got dark fast, didn’t it?). This might have something to do with the fact that the bulbs are really poisonous if you eat them (though why the hell they were eating snowdrop bulbs is anyone’s guess).

In nicer news, snowdrops contain a substance called ‘galantamine’ which is used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Snowdrop collectors are proper mental. No, really – bulbs are regularly stolen, and a single one can go for several hundred pounds on eBay (other online stores are available). Have a look at this article to find out more.

To finish off with some better words than those above, here’s a bit of Willie Wordsworth (as no one calls him) on snowdrops:

‘Lone flower, hemmed in with snows, and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day
Storms sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art though welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste snowdrop, venturous harbinger of spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years.’