Weather Words

Hugh Marwick’s Weather Words from Old Lore and Miscellany of Orkney, Shetland, Caithness and Sutherland, Vol IX (1921)

tirl – a short spell of bad weather. Derivative of Old Norse þyrla, to whirl – as wind does to hay.  See also Norse tirla, to blow softly

gushel – a strong wind of some duration.  See also Norse gosa, a blast of wind and its cognate gusul, a great babbler or chatterer

skuther – or skwither – a sharp breeze of short duration.  Probably two different words; the first a derivative of Old Norse skota, v. shoot forth, etc, and the second comes nearer the Norse skvetta, v. to fly away suddenly, ran away.  See also Norse skvitra, v. to drizzle, spurt forth

skreever – a very strong gale.  Probably a parallel form to Old Norse rifa, Norse riva, to tear, rend &c.  an apparently greater departure from the original meaning is to be noticed in katrizper, which in Rackwick, Hoy, is applied to a very strong gale

driv – a drizzle, with suggestion of being windblown.  Norse driv, what is driven, eg snow or rain.  Faeroese and Swedish dialect, both have driv as in Orkney

murr – a drizzle. Norse myrra, slight drizzle, fog

rashan – in phrase – rashan and rainan, of a downpour.  So in Scots.  Of uncertain origin.  May be an assimilation in south to the English rash, of Old Norse rasa, to rage, be very violent (of a storm), or it may be merely an alliterative assimilation of the Scots lashin and rainin

glamsy-of the sky – glittering and stormy looking.  Old Norse glansi, a glitter; Norse glansa, to shine or glitter

dagg – fine rain, Scoth mist, drizzle.  Old Norse dogg, Sweddish dagg, dew.  Norse dogg (1) dew, (2) soft fine rain

gamfer – atmospheric omen.  Norse gandferd, a troop of witches riding through air. Dr Stefansson cites Icelandic gandför

skolder – a strong dry gale.  Probably Norse skaldra, to peal, rattle, clash.  Old Norse skjalla, to clash, latter, used of a gale bursting out


Mackerel Scales and Mares Tails

As well as the objects on display in our temporary exhibition, we suggest you take a closer look around the museum, to discover some of our weather-related objects, which link to Clouston’s meteorological work. 

Ground floor:

Wind Gods

These brass wind gods currently sit in our lighthouse display.  Representations of wind gods were common in Orkney lighthouses (such as Hoy High).  It was hoped their presence would bring fair weather to help mariners passing through our waters. 

Whalebone Umbrella

The baleen plates of whale bone were the principal material for making umbrella spokes until about 1850.  As Orkney’s residents know, umbrellas don’t survive very long in our high winds.  Clouston mentions breaking an umbrella on his way home from Stromness in a sudden storm in March 1864.

First floor:

Mute Swan

Clouston recorded the arrival of the Mute Swan in Orkney, every year between 1857 and 1865.  He noted that ‘an early arrival of the swn indicates an early winter, probably because the early frost in their summer quarters drives them thence.’

Swans were not as common in Orkney in Clouston’s time, due to hunters.

Red Throated Diver

In Orkney and Shetland this bird is known as a ‘loon,’ but also a ‘rain goose,’ as its wailing cry was said to predict the coming of rain.



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