Wednesday, December 1, 2010

“It’s spitting”

It was snowing, barely, yesterday afternoon, and twice in two hours, I heard someone say “It’s spitting.” The word spitting was apt: snow was coming down in dribs and drabs — ptooey, ptooey, ptooey.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives this definition for the verb spit: “Of rain or snow: To fall in scattered drops or flakes. (Usually with it as subject.)” Here are the illustrative sentences that follow:

1778 [W. H. MARSHALL] Minutes Agric. Observ. 129 To sprinkle (or spit), to rain slow in largish drops. 1818 S. E. FERRIER Marriage vii, “And“ —putting her hand out at the window — “I think it’s spitting already.” 1836-7 DICKENS Sk. Boz, Tales vii, It had been “spitting” with rain for the last half-hour. 1860 TYNDALL Glac. I. xxv. 189 The fine snow . . . was caught by the wind and spit bitterly against us. 1887 SERVICE Life Dr. Duguid 171 Feeling that it was spittin’ through the win’, I quickened my step.
The OED entry for the participial adjective spitting has a phrase from Thomas Drant’s 1567 translation of Horace’s Epistles: “A linnine slop in spitting snow.” Or as Christopher Smart’s 1755 prose translation puts it, “thin drawers in snowy weather.”

[Slop: “An outer garment, as a loose jacket, tunic, cassock, mantle, gown, or smock-frock.” Thanks, OED.]

Related posts
“Ice and Snow Blues” (A blues lyric)
Inclement weather (John Milton and us)
“It is snowing.” (A Pierre Reverdy prose-poem)
Snow, dirt, paint (A photograph)
Snowbound (A one-act play)

comments: 2

stefan Hagemann said...

Thanks for this post, Michael. I don't know a lot about C. Smart, but I like the Norton Anthology's excerpt from Jubilate Agno an awful lot, and I like this translation of Horace too. Do you think Sylvia Plath could be alluding to this in the title of her "Black Rook in Rainy Weather"? The rhythm of Smart's line made me think of it, and although it seemed a stretch at first, Plath might have been interested in a kindred spirit. And her speaker may not be expecting a miracle, but she does seem to think "it could happen."

P.S. My word verification this time is "state." It's weird to get a real word, but in this case, somehow appropriate.

Michael Leddy said...

Gosh, I haven’t read that poem in years (good poem!). I don’t know enough about Plath to have a sense of her reading. But an example of just this sort of resemblance: at the start of Stanley Lombardo’s translation of the Iliad, “Black and murderous,” a characterization of Achilles’ rage, is meant to echo Robert Fitzgerald’s “doomed and ruinous.”