What is ‘rime’?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: rime…

I had never read anything written by the darkly comic Danish author Dorothe Nors. But when her 2017 novel Mirror, Shoulder, Signal was a finalist for the International Man Booker Prize in 2017, I decided to pay attention.

Nors is an exceptionally spare writer. Is this minimalism a result of her Danish heritage or an outcome of her own work as a translator of gory crime novels? I don’t know.  In any case, I very much enjoyed her book, which tells the story of a translator whose life is adrift after a romantic breakup.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal also gave me my word of the week, rime. Here’s how Nors used it:

There was something about the way the trees materialized against the sky — especially when there was rime on the needles.

I figured out from context that rime was a synonym for frost. But here’s the interesting distinction: Rime is the result of freezing fog, frost forms in the absence of fog. (I have no idea whether the photo at the top of this post displays true rime, but I hope you get the point.)

The origin of the word is said to be Proto-Germanic, with Old Norse and Dutch origins as well. There is also an Old French rime, but it, too, is of Germanic origin. Use of the word was rare in Middle English but it was revived for literary purposes at the end of the 18th century.