I will admit upfront that I’m not one for small talk. I’m not good at it and I don’t particularly enjoy it. You could argue that one is a consequence of the other, but I just feel that there’s seldom anything of interest to be gained from, say, exchanging pleasantries about the weather.
Unless the weather leaves no room for pleasant remarks. Then it gets fun.
To my limited understanding of the art of conversation, the weather is a pretty typical staple of small talk topics, but sometimes there just isn’t anything good to say about it. Sometimes it’s just bad. It’s ugly. It’s so egregious that you don’t want to talk about it. You don’t even know what you’d say about it if it came up, other than various primal noises of disgust and irritation. Surely no words can capture just how awful this type of weather feels.
But the British Isles come to the rescue once again, offering a word that’s just as grumpy about the detestable weather as you are: dreich.
According to one entry on Urban Dictionary, dreich refers to “a combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich.” It’s an excellent November word. (Another top contender is April, the cruelest month.) I’ve been waiting for a suitably dreich week to write about this word, expecting that the late fall would bring the requisite icky weather, but it seems that we’ve jumped into winter a bit early. Not wanting to miss out on my chance to write this post, though, I’m trusting that the weather is probably dreich somewhere — so here we are. None of the definitions I’ve seen have made it clear whether the recent early snow — part of a weather pattern which I’ve heard called an “Arctic blast” and a “polar coaster”, a phrase that absolutely needs to be used more — falls under the umbrella of dreich. I, for one, love the snow, so I have a hard time classifying snowy weather as “miserable” — but it’s often bleak and overcast, inevitably cold, and involves precipitation of some sort, so I would make the claim that it qualifies. Soggy, dirty, slushy snow, which even I don’t like, is certainly dreich.
This might be the most amusing weather word I’ve come across. It feels like it has a mood of its own: delightfully no-nonsense, almost deadpan. It’s the realist to the romanticized optimism of concepts like gluggaveður, which refers to unpleasant weather that is at least pleasant to look at; there is nothing redeeming about weather that is dreich. It’s just nasty. There’s nothing to do about it but wait it out. And the word itself seems self-aware in this respect: never before have I encountered a word that sounds so disgusted. It’s like the sound you make at a social gathering when someone mentions the weather on a dull, gray, cold, and/or drizzly day: dreich. (It sort of rhymes with yeesh. We don’t really have the ch sound at the end in American English, but just imagine the sound you would use to approximate a cat’s hiss. It’s the reaction we all have to that type of weather anyway.)
You have to respect a word that doesn’t try to sugar-coat the thing that it stands for. It owns its undesirability. When the weather is truly dreich, there’s something satisfyingly cathartic about having such an appropriate word to describe it, a word that’s right there complaining with you. Ever since I learned this word, I’ve been excited for the weather to become miserable so that I could write about it; there’s certainly something to be said about a word that can make you look forward to having lousy weather. Maybe the word itself couldn’t care less, but I think it’s worth appreciating.