Blow, blow, thou winter wind

As usual on a Sunday evening we dropped by the pub to meet our friends, but they were obviously doing something else tonight so it was just the two of us – and the others in the other bar. We chatted away to each other, and as with pug talk our conversation ranged over many things, until we were pondering on the different meanings of the word ‘blow’. There is blow as in making a puff of air to blow out candles or blow a bugle, and there is blow as in being struck by something… were they of the same origin we wondered?

Apparently blow associated with breath, breathing, wind, making music through an instrument by blowing etc comes from the Old English blāwan, coming from a German root, and maybe related to a Latin word. This origin is also related to ‘blow up’, or to spend recklessly, or to waste. Blow as in hitting someone or something is a different word, but no-one really knows where it originates but it was first used in this way in Middle English.

Another blow which we hadn’t thought of is to do with flowers and plants, flourishing, and most memorably used in Shakespear, ‘I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows…’

Thinking of Shakespeare, he was fond of things blowing:

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remembered not.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly…

As You Like It


Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

King Lear



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