A Hard Freeze’s A-Gonna Fall

. . . right in the middle of a doctor’s appointment you’re interpreting, at least if your day goes anything like mine did. It was just a routine allergies visit filled with words I hear and interpret almost daily: pollen, dust mite covers, saline solution, antihistamines, mold. So routine I almost do it on autopilot. And then the doctor said a phrase that jolted me awake:

hard freeze

Hard freeze? She had said something like, You can continue taking your medicines until the first hard freeze in November or so. And I went all Porky Pig, stuttering and stammering like an idiot. It’s so uncharacteristic of me to lose my cool, but lose it I did. Hard freeze? I think in ordinary circumstances I would have known what that was and recognized it, but it totally caught me off guard in this medical context. Hard freeze? A good description of what happened to my brain at that moment. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t thaw it in time.

Hard freeze? The more I scrambled, the further away I was getting from an answer. I was grasping at straws and not catching any of them. I couldn’t even picture a hard freeze in my mind–I just saw snowflakes on the ground every time I tried, and that wasn’t any help. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a city mouse or a country mouse, and this was one moment where it became embarrassingly obvious how removed I’ve become from the intricacies of nature and her rhythms. What takes place during a hard freeze, anyway? Or even just a freeze? I would settle for that. I can do a brain freeze, a hiring freeze, a credit freeze, a computer freeze– but an actual honest-to-goodness freeze? It had been far too long since I’d experienced one of those in English, and forget about Spanish. I lived in the city of eternal spring in Colombia. The book I’ve been reading is taking place in the sweltering heat of the Colombian coast. The music in my car right now is joropo from the Colombian plains–not much freezing going on in any of those places. I guess I’ll have to go scale some snow-capped mountains in Chile to authentically experience and understand a Spanish freeze.

Frosty rose

I ended up doing my best to explain the idea to the patient, but I was frosty–I mean fuzzy–on it myself. So, I came home with my tail between my legs and am now trying to do penance. I will never let myself be caught off guard by a freeze again–hard, soft, or anywhere in between.

It looks like a freeze is una helada. Looking on linguee.com, I see hard freeze translated as helada fuerte. Hopefully that would do the trick. Wiktionary defines a hard freeze as: A freeze sufficiently long and severe to destroy seasonal vegetation and lead to ice formation in standing water and hard ground. Three degrees Celsius below freezing is considered a threshold in the US. If I were interpreting at a gardener’s convention, sure, I’d make certain that everyone was clear on exactly what kind of freeze we were talking about. I don’t think meteorological exactness was necessary today, though. (But speak up if you don’t agree!)

I see that frost on the ground is escarcha. Ahh. Now I do have some experience with escarcha. When buying a refrigerator in Bogotá, I remember the units at the stores boasting on their tags that they were anti-escarcha— no frost. I’ve also heard the word used for glitter. Escarchar exists as a verb; a rather ugly one, to my mind. Thinking about freezers in Colombia, I remember once sticking a few pairs of new shoes stuffed with water-filled bags in my freezer in Medellín to stretch them out. When someone later opened it, their eyes bugged out of their head when they saw my footwear just chilling out in the freezer as if that were the most natural place for them to be. Crazy Americans.

Frostbite? Congelación, congelamiento, quemadura por frío, sabañones (chilblains). Even in English, it’s congelatio in medical terminology.

Frosty en español, Frosty in Spanish

(I’m sure there’s nothing like pairing an ice-cold Frosty with a hot, steaming Brosty [a popular name for fried chicken chains in Medellín].)

Brosty pollo Medellín

Jack Frost? Try Juanito Escarcha. Frosty the Snowman? Frosty el hombre de nieve, or Frosty el muñeco de nieve. Robert Frost? Roberto Escarcha. Easy peasy.

Just when I was starting to confiarme, it was good to get thrown for a loop. What was the last word to utterly discombobulate you?

(I know my play on words with A Man for All Seasons was a bit obscure, but if you don’t get the one in this title . . . ¡debería darte pena!)


5 responses to “A Hard Freeze’s A-Gonna Fall

  1. another entertaining post Vocabat! I just had a ice related discombobulation (one of my favourite words btw) with a friend talking about “mi primera escrache” today and I thought she was talking about frost.. until I realised it is Spring in Madrid.. apparently an “escrache” is a protest where you occupy the house of the person against whom you are protesting. new word for me anyway :)


  2. I hate that feeling of not being able to come up with the right expression. I never heard of “helada fuerte.” Simply “helada” is what I have always heard, and it happens fairly frequently around Bogota. Paradoxically, it happens during what is called “el verano,” which is the non-rainy season, as you know. During that time, the lack of a cloud cover means that the days are somewhat warmer but the heat escapes more easily and the temperature drops at night. The damage to the crops can be significant but from the perspective of being in the US, this could mean fewer flowers shipped for Valentine’s Day. The “heladas” are also frequent in Brazil, the world’s first producer of coffee, and when that occurs, the international price of coffee could be affected.

    So… looks like I couldn’t come up with something more fun to say this time, my darling young one.


    • ¿Tu darling young one? Y con la discreción, ¿qué pasó? ;)

      A propósito, me enloquece la palabra darling, así parezca “syropy”: https://vocabat.com/2012/04/01/how-people-find-my-blog/ Me encanta, me encanta, me encanta. Solo me interesa el amor en español, pero habría que incluir esa (y sola esa) palabra del inglés.


      • Discreción me pides? Si no me dejaste otra salida! I am not sure but it doesn’t look like you have blue eyes. And for sure you are not my son. So what else could I have said? :)

        I love syrup (talk about being literal). And honey too. In fact, very recently I started getting into molasses. Sweet stuff is good stuff. I hope this does not extend to my speech. No saccharine.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s