The Scots have quite a few words relating to our varied weather, and the word that springs to mind when you step outside lately is snell. Snell pronounced as it is spelt, means very cold or bitterly cold.
It’s a cold that is biting, sharp or even damaging, grievous or severe.
Burns uses snell in his sympathetic piece for a poor homeless mouse battling against the wind. He writes in his 1785 poem ‘To a Mouse’:
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s win’s ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!
In modern English that translates as:
Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse grass green!
And bleak December’s winds coming,
Both bitter and keen!
While mostly used to describe weather, be it cold temperatures or cold winds, snell can also be used in other instances. It can be used to describe lots of things. People can be snell if they’re stern or severe. Fortune can be snell if you’re particularly unlucky, and food can be snell if it’s very pungent or sharp tasting.