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If You're a Nature Lover, You Need These Words in Your Vocabulary

Robert Macfarlane loves words about nature and our interaction with it. In fact, he loves it so much that he compiled Landmarks, a collection of words used across America, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales—some of which have been long forgotten—to describe natural scenery.

In an article written for The Guardian, he explains why he felt the need to publish this compendium:

…Although we have fabulous compendia of flora, fauna and insects (Richard Mabey's Flora Britannica and Mark Cocker's Birds Britannica chief among them), we lack a Terra Britannica, as it were: a gathering of terms for the land and its weathers—terms used by crofters, fishermen, farmers, sailors, scientists, miners, climbers, soldiers, shepherds, poets, walkers and unrecorded others for whom particularised ways of describing place have been vital to everyday practice and perception.

Robert Macfarlane, The Guardian

In that same article, he further details the events that led him to collect these words:

The same summer I was on Lewis, a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published. A sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature. Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.

Robert Macfarlane, The Guardian

As Macfarlane's story about the Oxford Junior Dictionary shows, we live in a time when we are generally less connected to nature and to our surrounding natural world. This is especially true for children, who know more about gaming systems and iPads than they do about the sound of the wind through the trees and capturing fireflies. What does this mean for our next generation of poets and writers—writers who are losing the vernacular that was once so common among artists who explored the natural world around them?

With this in mind, here is a list of words that shouldn't be forgotten by poets and writers who are likewise nature lovers. Teach them to your children so they won't be completely lost.

Wind, rain, snow, and storms

After-drop (Poetic)

Raindrop which falls after a cloud has passed (first cited in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, c 1580)

Airie (Caithness)

Gentle breath of wind

Achram (Irish)

Very heavy rain (literally, "boisterous behavior")

Billow (East Anglia)


Brim (Orkney)

Cold, drying wind that withers plants

Blacthorn Winter

(Herefordshire) Winter that turns very cold late in the season

Cith (Gaelic)

Shower of warm, drizzling rain

Domra (Shetland)

Obscuration of the sky by haze

Dribs (Leicestershire, Northamptonshire)

Rain which falls in drops from the eaves of thatched houses

Dringey (Lincolnshire)

Light rain that still manages to get you soaking wet

Feetings (Suffolk)

Footprints of creatures as they appear in the snow

Gleamy (Essex)

Showers with fitful sunshine

Goldfoil (Poetic)

Coined by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, describing a sky lit by lightning in "zigzag dints and creasings."

Heavengravel (Poetic)

Hailstones Gerard Manley Hopkins

Lattin, letty (Shropshire and Somerset, respectively)

Enough rain to make outdoor work difficult

Oogly (Cornish)

Referring to the sky, when it foretells wild weather

Payling (Northamptonshire)

Wind-driven shower

Penitent (Geography)

Spike or pinnacle of compact snow and ice left standing after differential melting of a snowfield

Petrichor (Scientific)

The pleasant, distinctive small of rain in the air, sometimes detectable before the rain has even begun to fall, and especially strong when the first rain falls after a period of warm, dry weather

Pirr (Shetlandic)

A light breath of wind, such as will make a cat's paw on the water

Puthery (Cheshire)

Intense stillness and humidity immediately before a storm breaks

Roarie bummlers (Scottish)

Fast-moving storm clouds

Snow-bones (Yorkshire)

Patches of snow seen stretching along ridges, in ruts, or in furrows after a partial thaw

Ungive (Northamptonshire and East Anglia)

To thaw

Virga (Meteorological)

Observable streak or shaft of precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates before reaching the ground

Weather-mooth (Caithness)

Clear area in the sky, low on the horizon, from which the clouds appear to stream

Whewan (Orkney)

Wind that howls around corners

Whiffle (Kent)

Referring to the wind, when it comes in unpredictable gusts

Whittle (Cheshire)

A strong gust of wine, supposedly named after Captain Whittle, whose coffin was hurled to the ground from its bearers' shoulders by such a gust

Williwaw (Nautical)

Sudden, violent squall

Wolfsnow (Poetic)

Dangerously heavy and wind-driven snow (Gerard Manley Hopkins)


Alpenglow (Mountaineering)

Light of the setting or rising sun seen illuminating high mountains or the underside of clouds

Alpenglow is the light of the setting or rising sun seen illuminating high mountains or the underside of clouds.
Alpenglow is the light of the setting or rising sun seen illuminating high mountains or the underside of clouds. Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash.

Chockstone (Mountaineering)

A stone wedged in a vertical cleft or chimney of rock, impeding progress

Choss (Mountaineering)

Rock that is unsuitable for climbing due to its instability or friability

Creachann (Gaelic)

Grassless, stony hilltop

Moel (Welsh)

A hilltop or mountain summit that is treeless and rounded

Nick (Yorkshire)

Gap in the hills through which weather comes

Slip-rift (Geological)

Cave or chasm formed by the peeling away of one rock layer from another under the duress of gravity


Aber (Welsh)

Mouth of a river (into the sea); confluence of a lesser with a larger river

Abhainn (Gaelic)

Substantial river, often running to the sea, with numerous tributaries

Acker (North Sea Coast)

Ripple on the surface of the water

Bala (Welsh)

Outflow of a river from a lake

Borbhan (Gaelic)

Purling or murmur of a stream

Caochan (Scottish)

A small stream flowing across moorland and boggy ground with its channel concealed by heather and other moor vegetation

Cymer (Welsh)

Confluence of two or more streams Moonwake (Poetic) The reflection of moonlight on a body of water

Faoi (Gaelic)

Noisy stream

Hurdifell (Shetland)

Steep, rocky hill covered in boulders

Jabble (Scottish)

Agitated movement of water; a splashing or dashing in small waves or ripples; where currents meet, the water is said to be "jabbly"

Loom (Cumbria)

Slow and silent movement of water in a deep pool

Pell (Sussex)

Hole of water, generally very deep, beneath an abrupt waterfall

Soma (Irish)

A body of water that is abounding in swans

Staran (Gaelic)

Causeway of stones built out into a lake in order to fetch water

Trunnel (English regional)

A road or path where, in summer, the leaves of trees on both sides form a canopy

A Trunnel is an English word noting a road or path where, in summer, the leaves of trees on both sides form a canopy.
A Trunnel is an English word noting a road or path where, in summer, the leaves of trees on both sides form a canopy. Photo by Jason Ortego on Unsplash.

Twevelet (Poetic)

Small leaf bundles snagged around river twigs after a flood

Winterbourne (Anglo-Saxon)

Intermittent or ephemeral stream, dry in the summer and running in winter

Moon, sun, and stars

Apricity (Phenological)

Sun's warmth in winter

Benighted (Mountaineering)

Overtaken by darkness while walking or climbing

Bright-borough (Poetic)

Area of the night sky thickly strewn with stars (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Buried moon (Northamptonshire)

Moon seen through a vaporous haze

Burr (East Anglia)

Mistiness over and around the moon; a moon-halo

Dark hour (East Anglia)

Interval between the time of sufficient light to work or read by and the lighting of candles—therefore, a time of social domestic conversation ("We will talk that over at the dark hour")

Dimpsy, dimsy (Devon, Somerset)

Dusk, or the darkened hour brought on by poor weather, or the short period of time between daylight and dusklight. The "cusp of duskness" (Isabel Macho)

Doomfire (Poetic)

Sunset light which has the appearance of the apocalypse (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Firesmoke (Childish)

Blending of sunrise or sunset with clouds

Green flash (Optics)

Optical phenomenon occurring just before sunset or just after sunrise, in which a green spot is briefly visible above the upper rim of the sun's disk

Grimlins (Orkney)

Night hours around midsummer when dusk blends into dawn and it is hard to say if day is ending or beginning

Hoarlight (Poetic)

"Burnished or embossed forehead of sky over the sundown, beautifully clear" (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Print-moonlight (Sussex)

Moonlight bright enough to read by

Shepherd's lamp (Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire)

First star that rises after sunset

Shivelight (Poetic)

A word created by poet Gerard Manley Hopkins for the lances of sunshine that pierce the canopy of a wood

Flora, fauna and landscape

Berhog (Shetland)

Sterile piece of ground

Deadfall (Geography)

Dead branch that falls from a tree as a result of wind or its own weight

Dreeping (Irish/poetic)

Describing landscape that is heavy with dew or rain (Patrick Kavanagh)

Ecotone (Ecological)

Transition zone between two biomes, where communities meet and integrate (for example, between field and forest or lake and land)

Frail (Banffshire)

The skeleton of a leaf

Hopliness (Childish)

Changes in color along the length of a stem of grass


(Geography) Tall, thin spire of rock

Mute (Exmoor)

Stumps of trees and bushes left in the ground after felling

Pixy-hunting (Somerset)

Climbing trees in an orchard to get the last fruit after the main crop has been harvested

Plato's fire (Poetic)

Shadows dancing inside of a tree hollow on a sunny day in the woods

Sillion (Poetic)

Shining, curved face of earth recently turned by the plow

Smeuse (English)

The gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal

Smoog (Childish)

Referring to a group of children who gather, crack, stack and whack bits of fallen timber in the woods

Snicket (Yorkshire)

A narrow path between buildings or between a fence and a field

Solastalgia (Global)

Distress caused by environmental change (climate change, pollution mining) that alters a person's home landscape without them ever leaving it

Spurring (Exmoor)

Following the tracks of a wild animal

Sway (Venery)

Deviation of an animal's footprints from the median line of passage

Vallum (Northumberland)

A wide ditch

Wilsom (Scots)

A way or path leading through wild and desolate regions

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