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English Language Institute

Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Cold-Weather Vocabulary and Expressions in English

It’s the dead of winter or the coldest part of winter in New York City and the hustle and bustle of the holidays is over. It’s time to warm up by a fire, relax and learn a few vocabulary words and phrases to express the severity of the cold.

Jack FrostJack Frost is outside. Jack is not a real person but is a way to express that it is REALLY cold outside. You can also use Old Man Winter to mean the same thing. Old Man Winter isn’t going anywhere until spring.

When meteorologists describe the harshness of the cold, you may hear them say “feels like” temperature. This phrase is used to talk about the wind chill or the strength of the wind + actual temperature on our skin. The wind chill can cause a 20 F degree temperature feel like -20 F.

With cold temperatures comes our favorite precipitation: SNOW! Kids (and some adults) love snow because they get a day off from school and like sledding, snowball fights, and building a snowman.

snow fightHowever, not all snow is the same. In order to enjoy these activities, we need the snow to stick. Snow sticks when the ground is cold enough to prevent the snow from melting on contact. If it does not stick, then the roads and grass are too warm.

Once it sticks, the snow accumulates or piles up. In United States, we describe accumulation in terms of inches or feet. In fact, at the time of writing this blog, New York City is expecting 1-3 inches of snow to accumulate. That is not enough to close down schools but is still pretty to watch. We use the phrase “to pile up” when large amounts of snow are expected to fall. “The snow is really going to pile up; we anticipate 1-2 inches per hour for the next 12 hours.” You can do the math but that’s a lot of snow.

snowed underYou can also use this phrase to explain to someone that you have a lot of work to do. “My assignments have piled up. How will I get it all done this weekend? I’m completely snowed under.” Snowed under is a way to express feeling overwhelmed or super busy.

You can apply other weather expressions to your studies.

to give someone the cold shoulderTo give someone the cold shoulder

Marisol: Why did you give me the cold shoulder in class today? I wanted to ask you a question and you ignored me.

Nayoung: I didn’t give you the cold shoulder. I was really focused on my work today. I’m sorry if you felt snubbed.

To give someone the cold shoulder is often done intentionally to punish someone but can be done by accident as in the example above.

ManhattanYou can learn more vocabulary and expressions as well as grammar, communication and business English at Pace University’s English Language Institute (ELI). The ELI is about to finish its first program of the year, English + Career and Professional English Skills. It will be back next winter so don’t blow hot and cold (be undecided) join us in any season and use the vocabulary you learned today while enjoying all that New York has to offer.

For more information about studying English in New York at Pace University, visit the ELI website, or contact the ELI . If you are ready, you can apply here.

Word List:

  • hustle and bustle (noun): energetic confusion, busy, rushed
  • meteorologist (noun): a person who studies and predicts weather patterns
  • harshness (noun): severity, intensity
  • precipitation (noun): water that falls to the ground like rain, snow or ice
  • snubbed (verb): synonym for ignored