G is for Galaverna

After spending a relatively mild few weeks in Germany, Poland, Scotland and England, countries usually known for their cold winters but which struggled to hit below zero whilst I was there, I arrived in Italy expecting much of the same. The forecast was for sunny skies and a tame 10 degrees.

Of course, it turned out to be the most bitterly cold of them all, with a top of minus four during my trip to Venice (but that’s another story).

Whilst the cold was moderately off-putting in terms of getting dressed into layer upon layer and mustering an enthusiasm to leave the house of a morning, it did provide for this wonderful phenomenon: galaverna.

Galavera in Ferrara, Italy

Galaverna. Galaverna. I kept hearing the Italians throw the word around but I’d never heard of it before and had no idea what it meant.

What in the bloody hell was galaverna?!

After several people tried to explain it to me using unfamiliar Italian words, I came to a rough understanding that it was a build up of frost from the weather being so damn cold over many days and not being able to thaw. I then proceeded to explain that there simply was no word for it in English.

Of course I was wrong.  The dictionary told me that ‘hoarfrost’ is the English translation for the Italian galaverna, and though I can’t say I’ve ever heard of it, perhaps those of you living in countries that annually reach temperatures below zero have.

For those of you who, like me, haven’t, it is described by the faithful online dictionary as:

Frozen dew that forms a white coating on a surface.

Yes yes, that’s all very good, but what the definition doesn’t explain, is just how beautiful it is.

The trees and bushes turn white with the build up of this ‘frozen dew’, which becomes more and more prominent as the days continue in cold succession.

What it ends up looking like is snow. Snow without all the slush and mud under your feet. It is, quite simply, stunning to admire as everything turns white.

While both hoarfrost and galaverna are two words I’m not familiar with, I find it fascinating that they exist at all. Not content with calling it ‘a build up of frozen dew’ or ‘frost pretending to be snow’, somewhere, sometime in history, someone actually gave it a name. I don’t know why this amazes me so, but it does. To be able to give a name to something so beautiful, really is quite gratifying.

That said, I have to admit that galaverna just sounds so much better on the tongue than hoarfrost. Don’t you think?

Galaverna in Ferrara, Italy

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10 comments on “G is for Galaverna

  1. Love, love, love hoarfrost…and YES, “galaverna” is such a nicer word!!!! I will totally remember that one. THANK YOU for helping my vocabularly! Around here, galaverna is a reality for 6 months out of the year. Though is winter is weirdly mild…

  2. I love the word hoarfrost. It’s sad that its anarchism is seeing it fade from general use in merry old England, being replaced with plain old “frost.” I like the slight harshness of the H and the Rs makes the word sound a little cold itself.

    If you start to get all etymological on the word it becomes a bit less interesting, hoary being a word that simply means greyish-white. Which is a fairly redundant description if you ask me :P

    Another great word for this stuff is “Rime”

  3. i love photos of tree lined roads – i love trees no matter where, but you have captures keepers.

    The name hoar comes from Old English and can be used as an adjective for showing signs of old age in reference to the frost which makes trees and bushes look like elderly white hair. (wikipedia)

    • I really do love the history of words. Thank you for sharing that! And yes, there is something about tree lined roads. There are some in the UK countryside that are particularly picturesque.

    • You’re right, it is quite haunting. Especially with the fog, which Ferrara is in no lack of most of the winter. It makes everywhere seem a little mysterious.

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