Word of the Week: Wuther

Wuther – Poor, obscure, plain and little

Annoyingly the ominous scarlet squiggle currently shames this week’s chosen word but, since I have the support of Emily Brontë and the Oxford Online English Dictionary, I’ll spare it that ignominy and ‘add to dictionary’.

In defence of Microsoft Word, dictionaries agree that this intransitive verb (one which doesn’t take an object; you can’t ‘wuther someone’) is a dialectal form, and unfortunately, according to Collins Dictionary, it is in the bottom 30% of words in terms of popularity.

A little sad, especially when we consider that the quest to find an English language speaker who hasn’t heard of Wuthering Heights would be fruitless.

Dictionaries which list the verb agree that it means ‘to blow fiercely’ or ‘to blow with a dull roaring sound’; Oxford Online only recognises the adjective, however, which it defines as a feature of Northern English meaning ‘(of weather) characterized by strong winds’.

It entered English in the late 1840s (Collins Dictionary fixes the date as earlier but two others agree on this one) as a variant of the late Middle English or Scots ‘whither’, meaning to ‘rush’, ‘make a rushing sound’, or ‘bluster’, thought to be derived from the Old Norse ‘hvitha’, meaning ‘squall of wind’. (I’m afraid the squiggly line might have a point on that one.)

And since then it seems to have had a pretty stormy time of it:

2017-03-05-1

(Chart taken from Collins Dictionary)

It amazes me that such a unique and specific word is not seen more in everyday speech – wouldn’t it enliven the tedious social convention of discussing the weather if someone said ‘Golly, it is wuthering today, isn’t it?’. I hope you’ll give it a go – but, if nothing else, please add it to your dictionary and, hopefully, we’ll teach Microsoft Word to appreciate ‘wuther’ as much as it ought.

Okay, I know that the title is from Jane Eyre and not Wuthering Heights but I think it works too well for anyone to object.

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