I don’t know about anyone else, but for me being cold is just a fact of life. I’m partly convinced that I may be the first cold-blooded human ever to be born. A breeze on an otherwise warm day is enough to make me shiver and wish I’d brought a jacket. I have the practice of layering my clothes down to a science. I have to wear a sweatshirt to work even in the summer (though that’s more a consequence of the building staff assuming that upstate New Yorkers have such low tolerance for heat that the air conditioning needs to be continuously blasting at a temperature that would make penguins comfortable). I’m chilly as I type this. It’s especially frustrating during this time of year, when I’m so convinced that the weather should be warm by now that sometimes I will stubbornly go outside dressed as if it is the temperature that I want it to be, as if me refusing to accept the cold will make it go away — and I always quickly regret it. Being nearly three-quarters British myself, I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they lay claim to the word nesh to describe people like me.
Nesh is a surprisingly broad and versatile word. “Sensitive to the cold” is merely one specific shade of its meaning — in a more general sense, depending on who you talk to (or which dictionary is defining it), it can be used to mean anything along the lines of “weak”, “soft”, “delicate”, “feeble”, “timid”, or “lacking courage”. Cold sensitivity, I concede, falls under that umbrella. The word belongs to a regional dialect, heard quite often today in northern and midland England, but its usage dates as far back as Chaucer — and it’s the only adjective I’ve thus far encountered to have its own Wikipedia page. “Don’t be nesh” seems to be its most common usage, often in the context of a childhood taunt, or a teasing remark you might make to a friend; the closest approximations we have in American English would probably be calling someone a “wimp” or a “wuss”.
I daresay this all paints a less-than-flattering picture of us chronically cold people. I’m quite small and timid myself, so I won’t deny being nesh in some senses of the word, but my sensitivity to the cold has no bearing on that. But maybe this is fair comeuppance. As someone who has lived their whole life in the cold and bitter north, despite being nesh myself, I will confess to participating in the tradition of snickering when people in environments that are warm year-round complain about temperatures that I would happily frolic outside in. This “weather shaming”, as I’ve heard it called, seems to be a shared cultural impulse among fellow northerners, like some kind of deranged mark of pride that we’re able to survive our own harsh winters. I don’t know why we feel so innately compelled to mock those who are less suited to our environment than we are, but maybe it’s good to have a word like nesh to keep us humble — and simultaneously remind us that, considering how long the word has been around, there really is nothing new under the sun. People will experience the cold in the way that they do. Ultimately, it’s not the number of layers that count, but how you use them.
Or something like that.