The UK is the windiest country in Europe, so it is not surprising that the British people are fascinated by wind. British people talk about it so much, in fact, that being familiar with certain words and expressions is essential.
THE POWER OF WIND
Much of the country’s renewable energy comes from wind turbines: in 2020, the UK generated 75,610 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity from both offshore and onshore wind farms; enough to power 8.4 trillion LED light bulbs! Several geographical features of the British Isles contribute to its windy weather. The Gulf Stream keeps it much warmer than other countries at the same latitude, while dry continental air from Eurasia encounters wetter air from the Atlantic Ocean directly over the UK, making the weather notoriously unpredictable.
It’s not just about energy, however: British people see wind as somehow emotional and exciting. Trevor Harley, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Dundee, researches the impact of the weather on our mood and behaviour. As he puts it: “There’s always something happening — and if there isn’t, there is the promise.”
IN THE LANGUAGE
The English language is full of expressions referring to wind. A breeze is a light, gentle wind, but if someone asks you if a particular task is difficult and you reply, “No, it’s a breeze”, you mean the task is very easy. The wind can carry sounds from far away, so if you ‘get wind of something’, it means that you hear details about a secret. If an event is ‘in the wind’, there are unconfirmed rumours that it might happen (think of Bob Dylan’s song Blowin’in the Wind), and if you ‘throw caution to the wind’, then you take a risk or really don’t care about the outcome of your actions.
THE WIND HAS A VOICE
The wind usually blows, but it also has a voice. If it blows gently through the trees making a sound, we say it ‘whispers’. The sound of a very strong wind is a ‘howl', like the call of a dog or wolf.
When a breeze gets stronger, keeping you cool on a summer day and making it harder to walk, British people describe it as a ‘brisk' or a ‘bracing' wind. A bracing wind can make you feel full of energy, but it might make it too cold to sunbathe. In that case you need a windbreak — a strong piece of canvas suspended between poles to shelter you on the beach.
If the wind gets stronger still, enough to blow your hat off or making it difficult for your windbreak to stay upright, we say that it is ‘blustery'. A blustery wind is never constant; it comes and goes, frequently changing direction in that boisterous, playful manner so loved by poets. If it rains when there is a blustery wind, forget your umbrella, as the rain will arrive from all directions, even from underneath.
A ‘gust of wind’ is a sudden change in wind speed. If your aeroplane lurches to one side when you are coming in to land, a gust of wind will be responsible. If, on the other hand, there is a ‘gale' your flight may be cancelled altogether, because it means a very strong, prolonged wind with a series of unpredictable gusts. It is usually gales that howl.
Even stronger than a gale is a hurricane, a violent wind with a circular motion. If you think you probably won’t find a hurricane in the UK, think again. During the great storm of 1987, hurricane force winds with gusts of up to 160kph caused massive damage especially across the south of the country, killing eighteen people and blowing down around fifteen million trees!
“To take the wind out of one’s sails”: imagine feeling fantastic in your new party dress, when someone laughs at the way you look from behind. Your confidence shrinks like a deflating balloon. Five minutes on Twitter will give you the same feeling.
“A candle in the wind”: this idiom made famous by the Elton John song is a metaphor for someone or something that is vulnerable, fragile, perhaps uncared-for. Imagine a flame flickering in a draughty room: at any moment it could be blown out.
“A straw in the wind”: this uncomfortable idiom means to feel abandoned in a state of suspense, uncertainty or psychological torture in a situation that it is likely to have unpleasant repercussions!
“To be left to twist in the wind“: this idiom refers to a sign, a portent, a hint of what is to come. That could be a good thing, or it could be a bad one. Trust your instincts and be attentive as to what’s coming next…
“To break wind”: this idiomatic verb is a polite way of saying ‘to fart’ or ‘to flatulate’; that is, to expel gas from the anus, whether discretely or with fanfare. It is vitally important to remember that while ‘fart’ can be a noun, ‘break wind’ can only describe the action.