Where Does The Name “Winter” Come From?

It’s easy to tell when winter is coming in the parts of the world that feel the full force of the four seasons. The leaves have all come and gone from the trees, the air regularly has a distinct bite to it, and people don’t leave the house without their winter caps (and the mountains put on their winter snow caps, too).

In the Northern Hemisphere, winter falls in the months of December, January, and February, while the season spans June, July, and August in the Southern Hemisphere. Regardless of when winter comes, however, it always gets the same name in English. Yet if you look at where that name comes from, it’s not always the best description of what it’s like outside.

 

When did winter get its name?

Winter is not only the coldest part of the year in snowy locales, but it’s also often the wettest. That’s a defining characteristic that in part gave winter its name: the word winter, is recorded in Old English and is related to the words wet and water. Winterwet, and water have many cognates in Germanic and other Indo-European languages.The word’s longevity is a hint to its importance. The Anglo-Saxons counted their years by how many winters had passed.

What about the season also known as fall? Learn about the many names of autumn.

When winter doesn’t feel like winter

Of course, despite the name, winter is not a universally wet season. In fact, in some parts of the world it’s the dry season.

Places close to the equator don’t see the same winter, spring, summer, and fall seasons as other parts of the world. Instead, there’s a rainy season and a dry season. India sees its rainy monsoon season from July to November, while Florida is hit with its rainy season from May through October.

So yes, the name winter itself may have an origin story that suggests a wet time of year, but sometimes the opposite is true.

When does winter start?

The seasons are based around four celestial events: the two equinoxes and the two solstices. Winter starts with a solstice.

The winter solstice is when the sun is at the southernmost point from Earth’s equator. The exact day varies, but the winter solstice typically lands around December 22. That day, which is astronomically the first day of winter, is also the shortest day of the year.

From an astrological standpoint, winter ends as soon as spring begins. That date is around March 21 during the spring equinox, which is also called the vernal equinox or the March equinox.

Of course, if you’re staring out of your window at a blizzard on December 16, it can certainly feel like winter even before the winter solstice comes and goes. On the other side of the season, a warm and sunny early March day certainly doesn’t feel like winter despite the start of spring still waiting for the equinox to pass.

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Other ways people use winter

Winter doesn’t always have to refer to the season itself. It can be used as a general adjective for cold weather any time of year, such as “a touch of winter in northern Florida.” It can also be used to count a year similar to how the Anglo-Saxons used winter, as in “a man of 60 winters.”

Then there’s the option to use winter as a verb, as in “to winter” somewhere, which means to spend the season elsewhere. Typically this is used when referring to spending the season in a place with nicer weather than the one you’re leaving.

Winter can also be used to refer to the end of something and “a period of decline, decay, inertia, dreariness, or adversity.” And this, reader, is the winter of this explanation about where the word winter comes from.

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