It started snowing today where I live, and after a few attempts throughout the day, it finally began to settle during an hour long snow shower this afternoon. My inner child immediately shouted “IT’S PITCHING” and I rushed outside in inadequate clothing to take photos of the snow on the branches on the tree outside our house.
Having grown up in a part of the world that almost never sees snow (even when the rest of the country is experiencing arctic temperatures with blizzards blowing in directly from Siberia, Somerset will only get a lot of rain), it makes it all the more delightful when it finally snows, and better still, it pitches.
But when I moved out of the county, and mentioned this word, people didn’t quite know what I meant. Which is when it became clear that ‘pitching’ is a dialect term.
I’ve been trying to find a nice isogloss (a linguistic map that shows variation in dialect or pronunciation on a particular word) to show where the word ‘pitching’ is used for settling snow, but there doesn’t seem to be anything on that there t’interweb. However, a have found a few interesting snippets along the way…
According to Wikipedia (I know, I know, but it’s the only place I’ve managed to find it so far!), the use of ‘pitch’ in the Somerset/Bristolian sense is ” From Middle English picchen, pycchen (“to thrust in, fasten, settle”) (my emphasis).
I find this curious though, because if it is a term from Middle English, which is the period in English Language history from roughly the time the Normans conquered England in 1066 to just after Chaucer was writing (around the late 14th Century), then one might expect it to show up in various dialectal books. My old faithful booklet, “Lost Words in Somersetshire Dialect” from 1873 doesn’t make any mention of it. So, perhaps they were gathering their data in the summer time, and snow was the last thing on people’s minds.
I’ll be honest, I’m speculating wildly here. I am intrigued by the connection to Middle English though, and aim to look into that a lot more.
I also find it interesting that the original location for the use of the word seems to shift between Somerset and Bristol. There doesn’t seem to be a clear definition here, although given how close they are, it would seem reasonable that they have both acquired it (or hung on to it) in equal measure. Not so much in the next county along, where in Wiltshire they seem to say that snow ‘lays’. This is of further interest because it is almost a direct translation from the Middle English term. I wonder what they use in Devon? Or Wales, even? If anyone knows, please do tell!
In the meantime, I’m going to continue to stare out of my home-office window in childish glee at the snow pitching on my car below!