Winter Word Origins

The word winter comes from an old Germanic word that means "time of water" and refers to the rain and snow - as well as low temperatures - of the season in middle and high latitudes. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is commonly regarded as extending from the winter solstice (the year's shortest day), December 21 or 22, to the vernal equinox, the start of Spring. The word winter came into English c 888.

Dormant comes from the Latin word dormire 'to sleep,' and its original meaning was sleeping, literally or figuratively. Dormant and dormancy later were used to describe plants and seeds as well as animals, especially during the winter season.

Fire is often associated with winter, for its great contribution to keeping us warm. The English word has many cognates (words related by descent from the same ancestral language) in the Germanic languages and corresponds to Greek, Umbrian, Armenian, and Sanskrit terms. Originally, the word described emotion and passion; by 1300, it described one of the four "elements" (with earth, wind, water). The spelling fire was first recorded around 1200, but it did not become fully established until the early 1600s.

The word hibernate derives from the Latin terms hibernare 'to winter,' from hiberna 'winter quarters' and hibernus 'wintry.' Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin, first used the word in 1802, according to Noah Webster.

Ice has cognates in Germanic languages and is ultimately from Proto-Germanic. Beowulf used an Old English form of it around 723. Freeze has a similar background and its sense of chill or be chilled was first used in a phrase meaning, "It is so cold that water turns to ice."

The word skate was originally plural and comes from Dutch schaats, which derived from an Old French word for 'stilt' but the connection is unclear. Skate appeared in English in the mid-seventeenth century. Ski, in English by 1755, was borrowed from Norwegian, and ultimately from Old Norse for 'snowshoe.' And sled came from Flemish and Germanic sledde between 1325-1388 for a 'vehicle for transporting heavy goods' and is related to sledge and sleigh.

Snow is of Teutonic in origin, from an Indo-European root shared by the Latin words niv-/nix and Greek nipha. The spelling snow first appeared in English around 1200.

The solstice is one of the two times of year when the Sun's apparent path is farthest north or south from the Earth's equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice is on December 21 or 22. The situation is exactly the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, where the winter solstice is on June 21 or 22. The word solstice is from Latin solstitium, from sol 'sun' and sistere 'to stand still,' as it is regarded as a point at which the Sun seems to stand still. The word was first used in English around 1250.

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