An Irishman's Diary
A CANADIAN reader I just invented wrote to me recently asking if it’s true what an Eskimo told her in a bar once, ie: “that the Gaelic language has 50 different words for rain?” Well, fictional Canadian reader, that’s a bit of an over-simplification. But yes, if you include compound expressions and idioms, and allow for some overlap, then the various Gaelic dialects – including Scots – do have at least 50 different terms to describe precipitation. Probably well over that number, in fact.
I won’t go into the originals here, for fear of drawing the attentions of the notorious Irish grammar police. But you can get at least a flavour of the expressions from these loose translations into English.
1. Hard rain.
2. Soft rain.
3. Medium-strength rain.
4. Rain that would have been hard but was softened by Jean Byrne describing it while wearing a tight dress.
5. Driving rain.
6. Lashing rain.
7. Rain bucketing down.
8. Caressing rain (Jean Byrne again).
9. Rain like stair-rods.
10. Slanting or sideways rain.
11. Damp conditions.
12. “Unsettled” weather.
13. Weather that would like to settle, eventually, but can’t quite commit yet.
14. Steady rain.
15. Monsoon-like rain.
16. A rain of terror.
17. The rain that made the Romans think better of invading Ireland.
18. Persistent rain.
19. Intermittent rain, with sunny spells just long enough to persuade you to go out in a T-shirt and leave your umbrella at home.
20. Cold showers (sometimes necessary after a Jean Byrne weather forecast).
21. Scattered showers.
22. Not-so-scattered showers.
23. Highly organised showers (part of the famous “Atlantic weather system”).
24. Cats-and-dogs rain.
25. Rain of biblical proportions.
26. Rain falling noisily on a tin roof.
27. Silent rain, merging seamlessly with a bog.
28. Rain spreading from the west later.
29. Rain falling unseen in a distant forest (but expected in Dublin around tea-time).
30. Poetic rain.
31. Black herds of the rain, grazing in the gap of the pure cold wind.
32. Rain disguised as snow for dramatic purposes and falling softly during the climax of a James Joyce short story.
33. Never-ending rain as described in Myles na gCopaleen’s An Beal Bocht.
34. Rain as a metaphor for the Irish condition (ibid): “Misadventure fell on my misfortune. A further misadventure fell on that misadventure and before long the misadventures were falling thickly on the first misfortune and on myself. Then a shower of misfortunes fell on the misadventures, heavy misadventures fell on the misfortunes after that, and finally one great brown misadventure came upon everything, quenching the light and stopping the course of life.”
35. Celestial eructation.
36. Rain that was badly wanted (rare).
37. Rain that was prayed for last Sunday.
38. And then the heavens opened.
39. Rain a week of which now would do more good than a month of it later in the year (c. Mattie Lennon).
42. Rain on your parade.
43. Treacherous rain that changes the going at Leopardstown from good to soft after you bet your shirt on a top-of-the ground horse.
44. Rain intended for you personally.
45. Rain intended for the man you’re standing beside, but deflected onto you by his stupid golf umbrella.
46. Rain that hits you twice at a bus-stop: first from the sky and then when splashed back up at you by that bollocks of a driver on the 16A.
47. Rain that cheers you up by falling on Dublin airport as you’re flying out to Malaga.
48. And then ruins the effect by still being there when you get back.
49. Rain just heavy enough to make you have to use your windscreen wipers but not enough to stop the annoying squeak.
50. Rain that infiltrated your apparently dry bicycle saddle while you weren’t looking and then wets your arse when you sit on it.
51. The Rainbow Coalition.
52. The shower that came after the Rainbow Coalition.
53. The Flood Tribunal.