Well, it's become absurdly cold here and elsewhere, for reasons I don't fully understand. I assume it's got something to do with us just returning from Southwest Florida, where it was 80 degrees and I was enjoying the warm sun on my face not 36 hours ago. My friend Ryan and his family just got back from Hawaii as well, so I'm basically forced to draw the conclusion that the Midwest is punishing us both for leaving.

It's negative two out right now. Two below zero. That's not counting windchill, and not the coldest it's been here this winter, but it's plenty cold enough. I shoveled the front steps and felt frostbite setting in on my fingers within about five minutes. With gloves on. The tips of my ears stung when I came back inside, as they simultaneously decided not to drop off my body after all, but to restore blood circulation and give it one more go.

It is, for further reasons I don't fully understand, colder here today in northern Indiana than in Iceland, and about like the weather in Vladivostok, Russia. Even *saying* the words Reykjavik and Vladivostok makes me shiver a little.

This inhospitable weather, I tell you, is so frigid that the antifreeze squirters on our car, which spray freeze-proof fluid onto the windshield, somehow froze over. Cold enough to dissuade Vince from wanting his daily walk. Sufficiently cold, friends, to momentarily shake one's faith in the Earth being an inhabitable planet. There's no wind today, but when there is and the temperature is this low, I walk outside and feel the frigid air whip against my skin and I swear I hear mother nature yelling in my ears, "NO!"

So I go back inside.

But it's a perfect day, I think, for looking up hyperbolic colloquialisms online. This is, admittedly, a common pastime of mine, but today these colorful sayings really come in handy. And the weather suits a review of such delights, don't you think? To get us started, here are a couple of my favorite sayings regarding harsh winter weather:

"It's colder than a well-digger's ass in the Klondikes!"

(I love this one especially. The rhythm of the W in well, how it forces you to flare open your mouth in a blurty, unflattering fashion, followed by the superlatively appropriate K in Klondike, would be understood as a label for unpleasant climate conditions even if your native tongue was Swahili.)

"There's snow up to a tall Indian's ass!"

(This one I heard from a friend who used to work with an old pressman in a printing operation, and this colorful codger was apparently full of sayings like these. My favorite aspect of this one, aside from its inclusion of the word "ass" -- a staple of cold-weather sayings, you'll note -- is the complete irrelevance of the Indian. The "tall" item in question could have been a moose, or a giraffe, or even a telephone pole. But the pressman made it an Indian, thus making his saying immortal.)

Now, you might have expected me to bring up the one about it being "Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey", but to be straight with you, it's not a personal favorite. It's profane, yes, but I've heard the convoluted tale of its origins too many times, and scoffed in every instance. You too may have sat through this one already, how it's *allegedly* an old naval term regarding the brass plates called "monkeys" on which iron cannon balls were stacked. At low temperatures, the story goes, the iron would contract at a different rate from the brass and the stack of ammunition would come tumbling down onto the deck. Yeah, right.

I did also like Outkast's inspired simile, "cooler than a polar bear's toenails," but that referred more to being "cool" than cold. Nobody's cooler than those two, to be certain, but since they live in Atlanta I have my doubts whether they know much about chilly weather.*

On this harsh day, then, I'm electing to stay inside and request more of these sayings. Cough 'em up.

There's really no great clearing house for the kind of hyperbolic colloquialisms I'm after, at least not that I've yet seen, though you do turn up a few here and there online. In all honesty I've come to believe there's no better source than, well, old people.

There's just no substitute for someone who's been around awhile, particularly if they grew up in a fairly rural area, away from the homogeneity of cities. Or perhaps in a very specific pocket of a big city, a neighborhood with a distinct character, you might say.

So if you happen to be one of these prized people, please: share your treasures. And if you're lucky enough to know one, think back -- how do they say it's cold out? I have a feeling there are as many expressions for this as there are neighborhoods north of the Equator.

A call to your grandparents or great aunts and uncles may be in order. I'll wait here until you get back.

* Do polar bears even *have* toenails? Ah yes, I suppose the claws would count.


Valarie said...

I am sure you have heard this one, but I like "It's colder than a witches tit". Nasty and dirty. Just how I like it. :)

Hello, I'm Ryan Noel. said...

I've heard that one, Valarie. But I heard it: "It's colder than a witches tit in a brass bra." And I heard it from an old guy at church, which makes it even better.

Hello, I'm Ryan Noel. said...

Oh yeah, and I'm certain the Midwest gods are punishing us. My very first morning home I opened the front door to get the newspaper and snow blew over my house slippers. I shivered, stepped back inside, and looked down to see that I had snow on my slippers, and the snow spelled "HA" on my left slipper and "HA" on my right.

Aaron Kohn said...

Thank you for quoting my dear friend Ernie.

'Snow up to a tall Indian's ass'.

The best part was at Purdue where there were lots of short Indian students and very few Native American students, Ernie rightly confused.