Monday, December 04, 2006


For folks in the Northern part of the United States and in other countries, "freezing" is the point where water becomes solid. This happens at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius, depending on your national or scientific affiliations.

In the American South, you have "freezing" and you have "phrasin.'" "Freezing" is what you do with the catfish after you clean them.

"Phrasin'" is a measure of weather. "Phrasin'" does not only mean that the temperature is below the ice-making point. "Phrasin'" means that the wind is blowing, and/or that there is some sort of precipitation, and the house is drafty, and the kids are running around outside without their coats on and will catch their deaths, because it is phrasin.'

This means that it is definitely cold enough for a coat and sweater, and possibly long underwear as well. For example, "Russell, put your coat and sweater on , it is phrasin' outside!"

Phrasin' is always uttered in bold paranthesis, with an exclamation point after the sentence in which it is used. If it's phrasin' and the wind is blowing and it is also sleeting, it becomes a three-syllable word: "Laurie, don't you dare go outta this house without a hat on, it is fuh-raisin' outside!"

This is the time of year when I wonder:

Just exactly at what point do you folks up North think it is phrasin' enough to wear wool?

How deeply cold does it have to be?

I see y'all carrying on about this on the KnitList and KnitU all the time, just fretting away like a mockingbird who's discovered the rubber snake you put in the pear tree:

"Dear fellow knitters, I hope you can help me. I have a friend who lives in Mississippi and she wants a sweater for Christmas but I don't know what kind of yarn to use because you just can't ever wear wool down there because it never gets cold. I have no idea what to knit for her, whatever shall I do? Thanks so much, Judy in North Dakota"

Dear Judy in North Dakota: I am in Baton Rouge, about 45 minutes south of the Mississippi border. Right this very minute, we have a stiff wind from the North and ice crystals are forming in the water dish we keep outside near the food for the feral cats we manage. It is phrasin.'! So you go right ahead and knit your Mississippi friend a wool sweater, and in a few minutes, I will put on a sweater so I can begin a Southern ritual called:

Running The Pipes

If you're not from here, "Running The Pipes" might sound vaguely familiar. I'm imagining one of my readers up in Wisconsin calling out down the hall: "Honey ... running the pipes ... isn't that something they do at Celt-Fest after they have the sheep-herding exhibitions and serve the Haggas? Is it like hurling?"

Agreed, "Running the Pipes" does sound like something involving horses, bagpipes, whiskey and men in kilts.

But it's not nearly that interesting. "Running the pipes" means running around your house trickling every single faucet so that a steady stream runs all night, and leaving your lawn sprinkler on all night, too, so that the continuous flow of water through your pipes will keep them all from exploding from the expansion of the gradually freezing liquid carried within, and prevent you from having to take out a second mortgage on your house so the plumber can crawl under your house and fix the daggum pipes.

And if it gets really, really, fuh-raisin', like in the teens, we have to drain the pipes entriely -- shut them right off and empty them, and not turn them on again until it rises above the freezing point the next day.

So my question is, to all you folks up there who wonder when us Southern types get to wear wool: just exactly when do you think it's cold enough to put on a sweater? My vote is, if ice is forming on anything, that justifies digging out a nice, cuddly merino sweater. And a scarf and a hat and socks and my fingerless mitts, too.

I'm really curious about this because I see a fair number of Northerners at Green Bay Packers games wearing nothing but tightie-whities, body paint and a Cheeshead foam hat in December. Now I understand that most of our body heat is lost through the head, so I see where the hat comes in handy, and maybe that body paint was developed by NASA and has a super-high R-factor, in which case I would like to buy enough to paint our house, and if you could send me enough of those Cheesehead hats to fill our attic, I'd like that as well. You see, when I watch a Packers game and I see snow falling -- lots and lots of snow, snow falling the way it rains down here -- and I see those guys in the body paint and the Cheesehead hats, I think:

"They must be fuh-raisin!"

Now I'm pretty sure they have a certain amount of Captain in them as well, which has good antifreeze properties.

But still.

Isn't it cold enough for a sweater?

Anyway, that's all for tonight. I gotta go run the pipes.



At 5:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in "Southern" Ontario and I never wear a wool sweater outside until late December . Today it is -10 Celsius and snowing,I am wearing a sweatshirt under my windbreaker,no gloves and no boots.Not cold enough for the winter stuff or wool yet.
We don't have to run the pipes in the house we turn on the furnace and we have long since "drained" the outside pipes. (runing them would not stop them from freezing whe it gets to -30 or 40) Never wear wool sweaters in the house too warm put have nive Lopi sweater I will wear crosscountry sking laterwhen there is more snow.

At 6:13 AM, Anonymous Melissa said...

I think that the commenter from Southern Ontario illustrates a good point: "How cold is cold enough for a sweater?" is a regional matter. Wool sweaters are for "cold" weather, but what is "cold" varies from place to place. For Ontario, 22F isn't cold enough for wool yet. But for me in Pittsburgh, whoo-yeah it is!

I personally like to wear a wool sweater in the fall (probably about 50F)instead of a jacket. For wearing all day, I think about 40F outside with a teashirt underneath. (That's the temp the fridge is supposed to be.) :-)

We're also keeping the heat really low lately, like below 65, so a sweater takes the edge off every now and then.

It also depends on what else I'm wearing. If I'm wearing wool socks, then I don't necessarily need a sweater.

Wow, that was a long comment.

Lovin' the blog.

At 6:29 AM, Anonymous Ruth in PA said...

I was born in southern Virginia, lived in Ottawa, Ontario, and presently live in Pennsylvania. Cold enough for a sweater is when my nose is cold, and my fingertips are red or blue or white. Cold enough for a sweater for the kids is when I am cold. I know phrasin, and do pronounce it with three syllables, and we do run the pipes, even if we have drained the outside water system and put anti freeze in everything else. If the wind is blowing constantly, and the temps are in the teens, one side of the house freezes. The side with the bathrooms. We have to run the pipes at least once a year.

At 9:33 AM, Anonymous lisa said...

Hmm.... wool. What a concept. It was pretty much 'phrasin' for us over here any way last week. It got down into the low 60s overnight with high humidity,which translated into dampness, and some pretty good wind. I had to put on long pants and footies to keep warm. I've been living with an exceedingly gentle and moderate temperature most of the time, and anything under 72 means my body doesn't know how to adapt. It's not used to keeping heat in, it's used to letting heat OUT. Sleet, snow, minus something temperatures just don't exist here and your body adapts to living in warmth so anything else makes us shiver. You will, however, see local people (born and raised in Hawaii) in a medium weight parka when it hits 68, though. Oh well. As my husband says about living in Hawaii "Somebody's got to do it."

If it's any consolation,on my last trip to the "frostbite zone" , it was 12 degrees when I got off the plane. I was a human popsickle for that trip and kept getting laughed at.
Oh well.

A hui ho,

Lisa Louie
Kahului, Maui, Hawaii

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Susan said...

Dez, I compliment your phonetics on the word "phrasin". I can attest to its accuracy, having heard and used the word just as you described all my life.
Regarding the question of when to wear wool, I feel qualified to add to this debate by my circumstances. Although I live near you, I just returned from a trip to Colorado. There, the temperature dropped to 25F every night. The days were sunny, and usually warmed up to 50F. I went outside a lot, usually wearing a wool hat, scarf, and a fleece parka. After I'd been out in the sun awhile, I'd take the hat and scarf off--I was too hot. The natives were running around in t-shirts. While it might have been freezing up there, it was not phrasin. Also, inside the house was warm, snug, and the pipes were never threatened.
One day after our return home, that awful front came through and I've been phrasin ever since. We didn't run the pipes last night, but that was because my husband cut the water off. Maybe it's the humidity, or the way the houses are built here, but I am not comfortable here when it's this cold. I'm wearing all the clothes I can find, but the wool doesn't make me warm, just itchy. I'm considering going back to Colorado so I can warm up.

At 11:10 AM, Blogger sogalitno said...

as a native louisianaian who now lives in the NORTH (Hudson Valley), i appreciate your post in SO MANY ways.

now that i pay for my heat (gas) and after last winter's bills (which i am STILL paying), I keep the house at around 58 degrees - today its around 38-40 outside so the furnace is trying to come on - i may have to turn it down again

anywho i am currently at home a lot so i am resorting to wearing lots of layers - a thermal undershirt (and soon pants) wool socks and then a wool crewneck sweater and either a poncho (when i practice piano to keep my arms free) or a heavy wool sweater (at night)

also purchased two ceramic portable heaters - one for the music room and one for the den and an electric blanket for my bed - so the heat doesn't need to come on much at all.

its been a real slow process for me - i've been up here 20 years now - and find that all corporate offices and many public spaces are TOOOOOO hot. So at home i look like an expeditioner to the Alps but if i am going somewhere public/work like space - i dress less warm and wear a GREAT DOWN coat and WARM UGG boots (its cold on that train platform next to the Hudson River!) so I can derobe and then be not TOO hot whereever I am.

If i am at home all day - i just layer and unlayer as the day wears on.

Pipes up here are in BASEMENTS something us Louisianaians dont know from (yeah, i had to get used to those too) so you dont have to worry about them freezing unless your whole house loses electricity - and well, thats ANOTHER story!

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Lori said...

I live in Ohio and had this discussion with a friend in Corpus Christi yesterday.

Monday it was 16 at 7 am and I wore tights and wool socks under my jeans and a turtleneck, worsted weight wool sweater, polar fleece jacket, hat, scarf and thrummed mittens with my coat. Yesterday it was 30 and I though it was warm enough to skip the tights and run around with just a light jacket over my light weight sweater.

The real answer is you just get used to the cold. I've seen emails from past winters where I was crowing that it had finally gotten to 32 and it was shirt sleeve (although a turtleneck) weather. When it dropped rather quickly from the 90's to the 50's and 60's this fall we were all moaning about freezing to death.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Jo said...

Yo Mambo, we have the heatin' on and sweaters being worn here in Ireland's deep South, and it's probably somewhere between 6 and 8 degrees right now, at 10 pm. Over here it has more to do with the danged depressive effect of continuous drizzly rain and dark grey skies than actual real cold (haven't seen snow in years in West Cork). Me, I think, if you feel like it's time to wear a woolly, then WEAR a woolly. And have the hot chocolate too (as I am just about to).
Celtic Memory Yarns

At 7:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's Friday, and it's STILL Phraisin'! High today is supposed to be 48. Someone didn't get the memo that 48 goes in the overnight LOW slot, not the high!


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