On Sunday I visited Bakewell, a small town in the Peak District, with a friend. It rained on and off all day and we were trying to decide whether the rain could be described as drizzle or mizzle, a word I hadn’t heard before. Apart from a few brief heavy showers, it rained lightly most of the time – something I would describe as drizzle.

According to Weather Online:

Mizzle is a term used in Devon and Cornwall for a combination of fine drenching drizzle or extremely fine rain and thick, heavy saturating mist or fog. While floating or falling the visible particles of coarse, watery vapor might approach the form of light rain.

Etymology: from the Frisian mizzelen (drizzle)

According to the Oxford Dictionary, mizzle is mainly a dialect word meaning ‘light rain or drizzle’; or ‘to rain lightly’, and it comes from late Middle English.

The Free Dictionary defines mizzle as:

– (verb) To rain in fine, mistlike droplets; drizzle.
– (noun) A mistlike rain; a drizzle.
– (verb, British slang) To make a sudden departure

Have you come across mizzle before?

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Language.

9 Responses to Mizzle

  1. Petréa Mitchell says:

    I think I’ve encountered it being used by meteorologists here (the Pacific Northwest, where it spends a lot of time raining and any extra variety in words for precipitation is welcomed). It’s not in common usage, though. And I think it was explained as a portmanteau of “mist” and “drizzle”, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that’s a folk etymology.

  2. David says:

    Or independent invention.

  3. At first glance, “mizzle” to me sounds like what happens when you don’t shake off well enough after peeing, e.g., “Ah, Crap! I mizzled my pants again.”

    But that’s just me 🙂

  4. Jerry says:

    One source told me ‘mizzelen’ is Flemish, not Frisian and I can’t find a source that says ‘mizzelen’ is Frisian. But more interesting is that it sounds close to ‘miezeren’, which is a very common word in Dutch. It is very close to another Dutch word: ‘motregenen’.

    The word ‘motregenen’ means ‘small rain’ or ‘delicate rain’, derived from ‘mot’ which meant ‘mist’ in an old version of Dutch.

    The difference between ‘motregenen’ (to drizzle) and ‘miezeren’ (to mizzle) is difficult, though. I asked around and opinions vary, but a small majority says ‘miezeren’ (to mizzle) means slightly less rain than ‘motregenen’ (to drizzle).

  5. L says:

    I can’t believe I’m the first to mention this, but it’s used in Jane Austen’s novel “Emma”. According to Google, the passage is: “when, because it began to mizzle, he darted away with so much gallantry, and borrowed two umbrellas for us from Farmer Mitchell’s”…

  6. Drabkikker says:

    In addition to Jerry’s remarks on Dutch miezeren:
    I think the difference with motregenen, apart from a possible difference in drop size, also has to do with the emotional value. While motregenen is a more or less neutral term, miezeren definitely has a ‘miserable’ (any historical connection there?) association to it.

  7. Andrew says:

    “Mist” + “drizzle” = “mizzle, the combination of a light drizzle while very foggy outside”

    Makes sense to me.

  8. Jerry says:

    Drabkikker, I appreciate your noting the emotional value! That’s probably why I think miezeren is nicer than motregenen. 🙂

  9. Drabkikker says:

    @ Jerry: I agree!

    It would be interesting to delve deeper into the Frisian terminology, since they are well known for their plethora of subtle ’emotional value words’, especially where environmental circumstances are concerned. Mizzelen might not be Frisian, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something like miezelje actually exists, along with at least a hundred other words for different types of rain. (A friend of mine recently made up a list of fictional Frisian words for types of clay, most of which sound totally legitimate.)

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