This was the view from my bus seat at about 7pm last night, somewhere in the midlands of Ireland. It’s not an uncommon sight in Ireland, especially here in the west. What’s always seemed strange to me is that we appear to be surprised when it rains here, even though it happens most of the year round (and I include myself in that we). Any morning when I wake up and see it’s raining I’m disappointed, even if it’s been raining for five or six days in a row. Maybe it’s that morning optimism that makes me hope it might be nice!
Regardless of whether we’re surprised or not, we do like to talk about the weather, but I suppose that’s pretty universal. It’s a useful topic for small talk with someone we don’t know: it’s never controversial and it’s easy to talk about.
It’s definitely the rain that occupies our attention most often though. Like the claim that Eskimo languages have a lot of words for snow (which doesn’t seem to be entirely true), we have a variety of ways to refer to rain here, depending on the specific type we’re suffering at any given moment. If it’s very heavy, it’s pouring, pelting, lashing, bucketing, hammering, or even p*ssing down.
Sometimes though, it might just be spitting, when you get isolated small drops falling slowly, usually as a prelude to a downpour.
We have sunshowers, sometimes when there doesn’t seem to be a cloud in the sky, and also sheets of rain which ominously cross the hills like unstoppable solid monoliths.
Here in Galway we have a uniquely horizontal rain that seems to fly exactly parallel to the ground thanks to our strong winds.
If you’re lucky, you might just have to deal with a light drizzle, but that can easily transform into a fine mist that everyone’s mother knows goes right through you and even though it doesn’t feel heavy it’ll make you sick if you stay out in it!
It’s a good thing we have such a variety of ways to refer to rain, because what else would we talk about!?
What no-one ever says though, and I’ve never heard a single native speaker say, is It’s raining cats and dogs. It feels like a common phrase, but no-one ever actually uses it. It’s always the first phrase you’ll find in an English-language textbook when there’s a section on weather vocabulary, and it’s always come unbidden to my mind when I’ve taught that subject. Yet it’s a phrase that only seems to exist inside English-language classrooms, and I’ve always told my students not to use it. Luckily they’ve got plenty of other options.
I feel a little disingenuous writing about the rain though, because this is what it looked like at 6.45am this morning:
And it’s even nicer and sunnier now. Not quite four seasons in one day (come back to me in March to see that), but perhaps two seasons in two days. As much as we like to complain, it can be really beautiful here, and it’s important we appreciate that, and hopefully we’ll develop our vocabulary to describe nice weather.
Enjoy your morning, and hope your day’s as sunny as mine!