Snow terms


England has had far more snow this winter than for many a long year – 18 according to the Meteorological Office.

When snow falls and does not immediately melt, what is it doing? In Scotland, it is said to be lying. In many parts of England it settles, but in the North West of England – and maybe elsewhere – it sticks. And in Wiltshire at least, it pitches. At first sight, this last seems the oddest, but we pitch a tent when we set it up, so this is a similar use of the word.

When we think of dialectal variation, we usually think of the unusual words that occur in one area but not others. Most speakers of English would not consider their use of ‘lie’, ‘settle’, ‘stick’ or ‘pitch’ in this sense as dialectal, but it is just as much part of local dialect as is Glaswegian ‘yin’ for ‘one’, or North Staffordshire ‘purvet’ for ‘rummage’.


  1. I think that’s a malo-citrine comparison. All of “lie”, “stick”, and “settle” as applied to snow are part of the standard dialect: “pitch” (in this sense) and “purvet” are traditional dialect forms, as is “yin” for “one”. The standard dialect can be spoken with any of numerous accents and contains much vocabulary that is mostly used locally, like “davenport” = “sofa”.

  2. In New York, it sticks. It has never occurred to me before that it might do something else elsewhere. Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

  3. Amy’s comment (“[snow] sticks; it has never occurred to me that it might do something else”) provides a fascinating insight into the way that each us tends to regard our local dialect as “normal” and everything else as slightly perverse. Graham’s mention of snow terms brought to mind another verb which varies significantly as one goes north (in the U.K.) : in the south, one “picks things up” (from a shop, or from a surface) — the following text, copied verbatim from Dales Cycles web site, makes it plain that in Scotland one does something quite different …

    “Regretfully, items purchased on-line cannot be uplifted from our Glasgow shop.”

  4. I’m Canadian, and the word I use for it, and hear used is “stay,” and not any of the other terms you cite. We talk about “staying snow;” do any of the other terms work this way (i.e. lying snow, sticking snow, etc.)?

    To me, sticking snow is so wet that it sticks to anything it falls on (even vertical surfaces). And lying snow is snow lying on the ground (as opposed to blowing snow), so I don’t think we use either of these terms for staying snow.

  5. Margaret – I haven’t heard “stay” used in this way before – it’s yet another term, but I wouldn’t use any of these words adjectivally with this precise meaning. I agree with you that “lying snow” is snow that’s already on the ground, and “sticky” snow would be what you call “sticking snow”. But if someone looks out of the window and says “it’s snowing”, the question that then comes is “Is it sticking/lying/settling/pitching?” Would you ask “Is it staying?”?

  6. I was brought up in Dorset & have always known it as Pitching, my grandfathers family came from Somerset, so I guess it’s not just Wiltshire, more West Country.

  7. Steve –
    thanks for extending the evidence to two more counties at least!

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