"A little light draggle"

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According to James C. McKinley Jr., "Rare Storm Hits Texas, Causing Chaos for Drivers", NYT 2/4/2011:

Paul McDonald, a forecaster with the service, said the mass of arctic air that had blanketed much of the country had caused three days of frigid weather in Texas as well, freezing the ground. Then overnight, two low-pressure systems moved into the state — one from New Mexico and one from the Gulf of Mexico — and collided with the cold air, producing snow and ice. Though Texas usually has balmy enough temperatures this time of year to melt ice and snow as it hits the roadways, this time the pavement iced over.

“If the air had not been so cold, we would have seen a little light draggle, but cause the air was so chilly it turned into snow,” he said. “We get about one event like this every 10 years.”

Draggle as a word for precipitation, semi-frozen or otherwise, is new to me, and it seems to be new to  lexicographers as well. [Update — and the NYT article has now been edited to replace "draggle" with "drizzle"…]

The OED glosses draggle the verb as "To wet or befoul (a garment, etc.) by allowing it to drag through mire or wet grass, or to hang untidily in the rain; to make wet, limp, and dirty", and draggle the noun as "The action of draggling" or "One who draggles".  Merriam-Webster online has draggle only as a verb, glossed as "to make wet and dirty by dragging" or "to drag on the ground". Encarta has the verbal glosses "to make or become wet and dirty: to make something wet and dirty by trailing it along the ground, or become wet and dirty by being trailed along the ground" and "to follow along behind somebody else in a slow and usually undisciplined or slovenly fashion". The American Heritage Dictionary has "to soil by dragging  over damp ground or in mud", "to trail on the ground; be or become draggled", or "to follow slowly; straggle".

If Mr. McDonald is innovating — he only needs to talk about this once a decade, after all — he might have been thinking of "drizzle", with the lower vowel signaling a sprinkle (sprankle?) of bigger semi-frozen drops. But those glosses about making things wet, limp, and dirty by dragging do evoke the experience of wading through slush without proper boots.

Anyhow, I sympathize. We've certainly seen both light and heavy draggle this winter in Philadelphia.

[Update — Michael Ramscar writes:

there's a clue there in the name McDonald — "draggle" (or "draIgle") is of scots origin i think, and it may be that McDonald is simply revealing his roots. the use of distinctive words for dank, miserable, soul sapping weather is more common in scotland than in any other part of the world i've lived in. there is no mystery as to why.  my favorite of the various words like "draggle" that i know is "dreich," which i often heard used to describe the (many) days where it didn't really rain, but rather a clinging moisture hung in the air, soaking one to the bone in a whole new and special way.

The Essential Scots Dictionary has

draigle, draggle v 1 bedraggle, dirty, muddy. 2 mix (flour, meal etc) with water. 3 move slowly or wearily. n a dirty, untidy person.

dralgelt soaked through, drenched.

dralk v drench, soak

drackle damp, wet, misty.

dreich adj 1 dreary, dull, bleak: 'The weather's gey dreich the day'; long, boring, uninteresting. 2 slow; backward; slow to pay debts. 3 depressed

And the Dictionary of the Scots Language has relevant entries for dragle and for draigle.

So there's still perhaps some lexical innovation in Mr. McDonald's remark, but this may well be the foundation that it's built on.]

[Update #2 — Mr. Punch suggests, plausibly, that the weatherman might have said "graupel" (sometimes also spelled "gropple") meaning "small soft white ice particles that fall as hail or snow", and (over the phone) was mis-transcribed by the NYT reporter.]


  1. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » “A little light draggle” [upenn.edu] on Topsy.com said,

    February 4, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

    […] Language Log » “A little light draggle” languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2945 – view page – cached February 4, 2011 @ 4:32 pm · Filed by Mark Liberman under Words words words Tags […]

  2. sarang said,

    February 4, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

    After heavy draggle the snow needs disheveled off the driveway.

  3. blahedo said,

    February 4, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

    I only knew the morpheme "draggle" through its derived form "bedraggled" (which is apparently compositionally transparent, huh), so I took the line to be a bit of evocative wordplay (and an effective one at that). I've often said that the worst weather other than actual catastrophe is that 34 degree light rain that just soaks in and is dreary and awful. And now I have a word for it, Merriam-Webster be damned! :)

  4. james said,

    February 4, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

    He's just trying to help us catch up with the Eskimos in the "words for snow" department.

  5. Suzanne Kemmer said,

    February 4, 2011 @ 11:34 pm

    There's also the compound _draggle-tailed_, which can describe birds with long or drooping tail feathers dragging in the mud. Also, metaphorically, ill-dressed, unkempt people with clothes dragging in the mud.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    February 4, 2011 @ 11:40 pm

    From a Dallas friend who is a native Texan through and through, upon reading this post: "LOL! Haven't heard that word for years. My Grandad used to run the cattle through a dip for ticks and other pest in the early Summer. The stock were driven through a gate which led to a small pond of the insecticide wash.Each cow would be pushed into the pond head first and forced to swim out the other side dripping the wash. I can hear my Granddad say, after the herd was set up, 'OK boys let's get'um all draggled'".

  7. John Roth said,

    February 4, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

    He may be using it as an indirect reference to the effect – it's going to foul clothes, etc. That's the first OED entry you quote.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    February 5, 2011 @ 11:53 am

    I neglected to mention that my Dallas correspondent has Irish-Scots heritage.

  9. John Cowan said,

    February 5, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

    In the Scots translation of the Pooh books, Eeyore's Gloomy Place (subtitled on the map "Rather Boggy and Sad") is called "Heehaw's Dreich Place". And now rhotics know why he's called "Eeyore".

  10. Mr Punch said,

    February 5, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

    I wonder if the (re)appearance of this term is related to the apparently sudden emergence of graupel/gropple, which refers to light precipitation between snow and hail. We in the northeast have been hearing that hitherto obscure word a lot this winter.

    [(myl) So maybe Mr. McDonald said "a little light graupel", and the NYT reporter transcribed it as "draggle"? Or maybe McDonald meant to say "graupel" and it came out as "draggle"?

    The OED glosses graupel as "soft hail"; Merriam Webster as "granular snow pellets";Encarta as "small soft white ice particles that fall as hail or snow"; Wordnik confirms that it's sometimes (mis-?) spelled "gropple" these days. ]

  11. Nijma said,

    February 5, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

    graupel/granular snow

    This sounds like what we used to call "corn snow" in the midwest, usually the first snow of the season.

  12. DW said,

    February 5, 2011 @ 9:27 pm

    Maybe it's just a plain error for "drizzle"? (The NYT piece linked seems to have "drizzle".)

  13. richard said,

    February 5, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

    Yes, we still use "corn snow" rather than "graupel" here in southern Wisconsin. But over by Milwaukee you do hear "drazzle" from time to time to name what sounds a lot like Texan "draggle" to me.

  14. [links] Link salad is gonna cook today | jlake.com said,

    February 6, 2011 @ 8:55 am

    […] Language Log on unusual words for precipitation — Including "graupel", a word I've been seeking for a long time, as we very occasionally see this in the Pacific Northwest. It describes "small soft white ice particles that fall as hail or snow". When that happens, it's sort of like the sky is gently pouring down vermiculite, or shredded styrofoam. […]

  15. Olga said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

    I always thought that Graupel (n.m.) was German for 'sleet'.

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