The Nation's Frostiest Debate

From telling friends in the pub that a ‘national heatwave’ should be declared after only a few days of sunshine to defending the daily shipping forecast as a beloved institution (despite the fact that you’ve never listened to it and live nowhere near the sea), it’s fair to say that us Brits love talking about the weather. While it may be considered polite small talk or even pointless chitter-chatter in other parts of the world, discussing the week’s meteorological events is practically a national pastime in the UK.

However, with so many different regional accents, dialects and local traditions across the UK, the terminology used to discuss the weather can be difficult to understand, even for other Brits. Here at Regatta we’ve been wondering what are the most common ways of saying ‘it’s cold!’ across the country. We also thought we’d delve into the nation’s favourite hot drinks across different regions and look at people’s preferred methods of keeping warm when the cold weather strikes. From ‘brass monkeys’ to ‘absolutely taters’, to find out we surveyed 800 people from all over the UK.

Here’s what we found.


Frosty Debate Infographic

Regional differences…

Although our survey showed that some phrases and terminology for describing cold weather are fairly universal, with a huge 84.13 per cent of respondents saying they used the generic phrase ‘it’s freezing’, interesting regional differences do exist.

For example, we found that although the phrase ‘it’s baltic’ is commonly used in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, half of all respondents in the UK have never heard of the phrase. A similar pattern is also visible in London. While a significant 30.77 per cent of those questioned who either live or grew up in the capital said they would use the Cockney rhyming slang ‘it’s taters’ - short for ‘potatoes in the mould’ (cold) - only 17.25 per cent of respondents as a whole have ever heard of the phrase before.

As well as ‘it’s parky’ - a phrase most commonly used in Wales, with 63.64 per cent of those with Welsh heritage claiming to use this saying - perhaps the most regionalised phrasing identified by our survey was ‘brass monkeys’. Although disputed, some believe this saying has its origins in the British Navy where in the 18th and 19th centuries cannonballs were stored aboard ships on brass frames called ‘monkeys’. It is said that in cold weather, these brass frames would contract causing the cannonballs to spill, hence the complete phrase ‘it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’. This could provide an explanation for why 55.38 per cent of all respondents nationally had heard of this phrase and it is most commonly used by those in the north west of England - an area with many ports and a proud naval tradition.

While the term ‘it’s freezing’ was unsurprisingly identified as the most common and universal phrase when it comes to describing the cold, it is interesting to note that the survey also revealed that ‘it’s nippy’ is another commonly used saying, with 59.75 per cent of those who participated saying they use it. Although this northern-sounding phrase is used in the Yorkshire and Humber region more than anywhere else in the UK, according to our survey it is also the second most commonly used phrase nationally when describing the cold weather. Similarly, ‘it’s frosty’ - a phrase most associated with the north east of England - is the third most commonly used phrase across the UK, with over one in three respondents (38.88 per cent) claiming to use this saying.

Are we still a nation of tea lovers?

Everyone knows that one of the best ways to keep warm when it’s cold outside is with a hot beverage. With this in mind, we wanted to know what the nation’s preferred hot drink is and if this differs by region too.

Perhaps the most shocking finding here was that, despite being known as a nation almost defined by its perceived love of tea, out of the 800 people we surveyed, coffee actually came out as a marginally more popular drink. Just over a third of one people (38.50 per cent) said they would prefer a cup of coffee compared with the 38.13 per cent that opted for a cup of tea. Less surprisingly, just short of a fifth of those surveyed (18.38 per cent) would choose a hot chocolate, while only five per cent said they prefer a fruit/herbal tea or malt beverage.

However, while coffee might just nick it nationally, it’s safe to say the UK is still fond of a good cuppa. Out of the 11 regions of the UK included in our survey, tea was listed as the respondents’ preferred hot drink in all but four. Interestingly, while tea was the preferred hot beverage in Yorkshire and the Humber, north east England and Wales, those in the south appear to like tea more than those in the north overall.

When it comes to the regional terminologies used for a good old cup of tea, the majority of those surveyed (65.88 per cent) identified ‘cuppa’ as their preferred choice. Meanwhile, 17 per cent of respondents opted for ‘a brew’ and 4.13 per cent said they were most likely to use the Cockney rhyming slang ‘Rosy Lee’. It comes as no surprise that while ‘cuppa’ is used almost universally, ‘brew’ is mostly used in the north of England and ‘Rosy Lee’ almost exclusively in the London area.

How we keep warm during winter…

As well as being a nation of tea - or should that be coffee - lovers, us Brits also like our outdoor activities. Indeed, regardless of the cold weather, a significant 56.13 per cent of those we surveyed said they go hiking/walking during the winter months, while 27.5 per cent and 20.38 per cent revealed they go running or visit the beach respectively.

But what are the most common ways the nation keeps warm when outdoors during winter? Well, according to our survey, the majority of people stay toasty the old fashioned ways, with over three quarters (77.38 per cent) saying they just layer up and more than two out of three people (65.38 per cent) opting for hats, gloves and scarves to keep warm. That being said, there are signs that modern technology is starting to be incorporated into some people’s thinking - 11.25 per cent of those surveyed said they now use heated jackets to keep warm when outside during winter.

Finally, when asked how they like to stay warm in the home during the winter, the majority of respondents (61.5%) said they usually layer up. Fascinatingly, this answer was more popular than sitting by a radiator or a fire or using a hot water bottle.

So, there you have it. While the UK is still united in its love for discussing the weather, the ways in which different regions do so remain as diverse as ever. Although, the jury is still out on whether or not coffee has definitively taken the place of tea as the nation’s favourite hot drink, it would appear the language we use to describe ‘a cuppa’ and the methods we use to keep warm during the winter remain as timeless as ever.

What phrases do you use to describe the cold, and are you more of a tea or coffee person? Let us know by joining in the conversation using the hashtag #AFrostyDebate.

Leave a reply