South Boston residents walk their dogs at Castle Island in Boston, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

It may have occurred to some of you in the past few days that living in New England during winter is a relatively miserable experience. This is especially true if you, like me, were raised in a relatively warm locale such as California, where “sub-zero” is a term associated with high-tech freezers, not the air outside your home.

For those non-natives who are new to our fair city — and by “fair city” here I mean basically “frozen wasteland” — here’s a helpful guide to some basic seasonal terms.


A huge storm system, usually deriving from the North Atlantic Ocean, and generally involving snow, sleet, frozen rain, high winds, dangerous roads, car crashes, frostbite, and death.

Natives love Nor’easters (native pronunciation: Nor’eastah!), which not only make them swell with regional pride, but allow them to demonstrate how much better prepared for bad weather they are than you, you pathetic, thin-skinned wimp.


A person who loves snow. More broadly, a person who welcomes the cold, wet, bitter weather as a natural, and even sublime, expression of seasonal variation.

Snowholes love nothing more than pulling on their water-proof boots and gloves and tromping outside to fire up ye olde snowblowah.

They cannot understand why you’re not absolutely thrilled by the chance to suffer from windburn and hypothermia.

Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD):

A medical term used to describe what happens when human beings are trapped indoors for up to five months, deprived of sun and subjected to freezing temperatures.

Common symptoms include despair, impotent rage, significant weight gain, a chalky complexion, and facial skin that feels like onion paper.

Mud Room:

The special heated berth that native New Englanders have attached to their homes, which allows them to shed and stow all their gear before entering the house proper.

If you do not have a Mud Room, you will be tracking slushy muck into your home for many weeks on end.

Black Ice:

Not (as non-New Englanders tend to assume) the rap/pop super group formed by Vanilla Ice and Black Eyed Peas. No, to a hearty native, “black ice” means a transparent sheet of frozen water that covers any exterior surface you, or your vehicle, might wish to traverse.

Examples: your front steps, your sidewalk, the streets you drive to work.

Black Ice has one purpose: to kill you.

Wind Chill Factor:

This is a specialized term used to describe how cold the air temperature feels on actual exposed skin. Because, as a non-native, you do not have the proper winter gear, you will inevitably be experiencing the joys of the wind chill factor the moment you step outside.

When the friendly New England snowhole weatherman suggests that it will be 40 degrees this Saturday, you are best to bear in mind that the actual air temperature on your skin will be closer to, say, 15 degrees.

Super Bug:

In the sunny climes you came from, winter colds were pretty much just regulation sniffles. Here in New England, we have Super Bugs, which are sinus and bronchial infections that are impervious to antibiotics. Why? Because the bacteria in question are New England bacteria: stubborn, hardy, and not willing to leave your body until they’re good and ready. This means four to six weeks.

Spring Thaw:

A mythical geothermal event marking the formal end of winter. It is said to take place in mid-March.

The actual thaw occurs in early to late April, right around the time you shake your final super bug of the season, and finish renovations on your Mud Room.


Tags: Boston, Humor

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  • Laura MacNeil

    For heaven’s sake. This winter has been practically tropical. We get one week of seasonal weather and people are in a panic. We can’t take credit for the respiratory nightmares that just went around as that was a national event. And why be bitter about a mud room. They are good things that should be a part of all new home designs.

    • X-Ray

      The tropics I’ve been in were a lot warmer.

    • Jenn Kanze-Eaton

      you are right it’s being seasonal out there, but to be fair the body gets used to mild temps much easier than cold, we didn’t get the slow drop from October- December- it was 60 degrees the week before. This is all tongue in cheek,and funny- and I don’t think anyone is besmirching the mudroom. I guess I am a snowhole, though I didn’t know there was a term… i always thought it was just “one of those”! I don’t necessarily like BEING cold but I like THE cold. Cheers!

  • Charlene

    That wasn’t bitter – that was tongue in the cheek and pretty funny

  • Cooper

    Actual WBUR forcast: “Today’s high will be 14 degrees with ineffective sunshine.” Love it!

  • oldenglander

    loved that forecast yesterday… Good to have a laugh in the cold, it gets the circulation going. I am an ‘old’ Englander so I love the chance to complain about the temp here – it sounds even colder in Celsius. The really cold weather is short-lived & maybe makes the seasons a little more interesting & the arrival of Spring so much more exciting. Just wish the houses were insulated!

  • Ana_900

    You can see from the pic how happy people walking their dogs are :)

  • Jesse Mitchell Lindsey

    Hmm… I never realized Mud Room was a local thing. I mean, of course it is an awesome place to ditch your snowy boots, but don’t other climates experience mud?

  • Jesse Mitchell Lindsey

    As a native I have to say that there is one indispensable new winter item that I picked up this year, and that is capacitive iPhone gloves. They’ve probably been around a while, but I have just discovered them and they have permanently changed winters for me. I now have no reason to hide inside.

  • Emily

    What a fabulous article! As a born and raised New Englander I appreciated this article and had a few good chuckles. I love the other perspective and of course the integrated accent!

  • CrustyNutmegger

    Love the tongue-in-cheek commentary, although he is right about black ice: it’s only purpose is to kill you, or at least make you a paraplegic.

    • rockhauler

      or a murderer.

  • Bobby D

    This is so funny! I can’t stop laughing and will be sharing this. Well done! I’m 51, grew up here, and still don’t like it! I have been grateful for the mildness of the last two winters. This current chill is just a reminder of what we have been missing.

  • Dawn Bezanson Trapp

    Psh. I’m not a native – born and raised in Michigan, transplanted to the Cape – but so far only the mountaintops of Maine have produced weather bitter enough to impress me. Masochistic regional pride is not unique to the Atlantic coast!

  • janesoutham

    Sorry, the Northeastern winters are depressing. This January has been horrible. The frigid weather is not conducive to cylcling or getting out to get to an indoor pool.

    I need to move South.

    • Patricia A Boyle-Wight

      LOL to the cycling…um, yeah. It’s winter. No cycling :) Love the winter and the snow (only for a few months though…say November through March…after that I’m definitely ready for Spring). Never heard the term snowhole. A year without a few months of snow would feel really weird, and depressing.

    • dr2chase

      They make snow tires for bicycles. With carbide studs. They’re simultaneously awesome and awful.

  • amanda

    I have lived in new England my whole life. I am definitely a snowhole, though this is the first time I hear the expression. I’m 36 now and my mother still reminds me to beware the black ice every time I go out in winter.

  • Dana

    My favorite term for inclement weather is what Southeast Alaskans refer to as “snotty,” or “being socked in” — by wind, rain, cold air, and fog.

  • Rita McNamaraMoose

    As a Bostonian living in North Carolina, I can go years without wearing hat,gloves, scarf or even a real winter coat. Today, though, with a high of 32 I finally get to wear a coat and some gloves. Which means I get the inevitable” look at that coat, I thought people from Baaaston didn’t get cold” I’ve given up trying to teach anyone how t0 say Boston, but still, I try to explain, “We do get cold, so we put a coat on” cheese

  • Marc Lamphier

    Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.

  • nsmk

    These are the directions for an upper midwestern winter, not a “New England” winter – particularly not Boston, even before global warming. ONE WEEK of cold, no snow on the ground? It’s nothing. And- it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder.

    • Martian Minisculio

      Hey, lighten up, nsmk! I grew up in the Midwest, where I still visit at Thanksgiving and Xmas, have lived in New England 40 years, and am magically still able to find this op-ed funny. And wholly accurate re: New England. Yes, some of it’s true of the Midwest too (mudrooms, being a good idea, are not confined to New England–but Almond is a Californian, how would he know there are mudrooms in the Snowbelt? Unless he vacations there in February, which it sounds like he’s unlikely to do).

  • Jasmo

    Moved down to Quicny from Monpelier, VT five years ago and I am still waiting for winter to come..

  • Calilah

    Bostonians are the only New Englanders who end their sentences with “ahhh” instead of “er.” The rest of us hearty stock have our own form of incomprehensible language, like “Ayut.” That usually means “Uh-huh.”

    • rockhauler

      not so. central mass is hardly considered bostonian, and many natives from woostah, westminstah, etc. use the broad a.

  • og

    This is all well and good, but having lived both in New York and in middle America, I can tell you that east coats people are pansies when it comes to bad weather

  • ellen

    Janesoutham, I totally agree with you. This January has been a bitch – what with being sick and the horrible, horrible cold. I detest it – and this is from a positive person who loves life. But this January has really gotten me down. I pray it changes soon – I live on Cape Cod and it is miserable here – icy and FREEZING!!

  • Elizabeth Goldberg

    Forgot mud season! though that’s more northern New England – the extra season between winter and spring

    • rockhauler

      one has only to get out of the urban boston area and into central and western mass to experience the dreadful mud season. when i worked in boston i traveled regularly to western mass and delighted in returning staff cars covered with good old-fashioned mud. alas, last winter we had a drought and hence no mud.

  • Gene Harris

    I am a snowhole. You are a flat-lander.

  • edmond

    From Arkansas and know exactly what you mean. And i say,”What mudroom” that sounds like my apartment for 4 months.

  • ANNA

    If yuh cahn’t take wintah, yuh don’t deserve summah!

  • Helen Downing

    Better to be a snowholer than an _ _ _ hole. The colder the winter, the less chance you have to hang out with the latter!

  • Duke

    Steve – Yup – you hit it. I just returned from a 500 mile drive West with rewarded expectations that the snow in Allegany State Park would drift down each day, but the 1F nights with the beautiful full moon would prevent any melting. ‘Nevah got over 19F- as I said as we celebrated with the evening spanikopita, Ouzo, and Retsina – OOPAH! “It doesn’t get any bettah than this!” Duke

  • Not Her

    Does this negative b.s really pass for humor in Palo Alto. What a miserable bunch they must be. Guess all that “godly” weather doesn’t help them much. Tell you what, you go back and leave the happy snow ecstatic folk here to enjoy ourselves.

  • Maria

    One thing missing: snow banks.

  • Helen Downing

    Those people are smiling under their scarves! Dogs, not so much.

  • Charles

    Literally so done with New England. I have spent the last 18 years here and the winters are long and depressing.