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August 5, 2013 at 6:54pm
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The Winter Way

I enjoyed this list, and when I saw that it’s called the Winter Way in many languages, I was reminded of a little hapax legomenon of the web: to go the winter way. It appears in Poul-Henning Kamp’s famous flame/essay Why Should I Care What Color the Bikeshed Is?:

All these things and more go the winter way without me ever even knowing about it.

The flame/essay is a classic in many circles – I had it in mind because last week, a co-worker of mine said something like that’s a bikeshed about a technical question, and everyone knew what was meant. If you search for the phrase, you find many quotes of the flame/essay. And you find a Japanese shoe store:

Let’s go the winter way with these shoes!
  • I express a lovely penguin on the part of the former three-dimensionally
  • It is with soft and fluffy lining comfortable warmly even in winter.
  • I adopt “cross light” material entirely. Is light; wear it, and realize a feeling and comfortable cushion characteristics.

I think it’s safe to say this is not the idiom that Kamp used. So what did he mean? I could ask him, but I haven’t, because it’s fun to do things the hard way. Kamp is Danish, but apparently the normal contemporary Danish name for the Milky Way is just like ours: Mælkevejen. Naturally he could be referring to an older or pan-Scandinavian usage, but even then it would be an unexplained idiom: to go the Milky Way is suggestive, and in context we can guess it means something like disappear, but I wouldn’t want to bet on it. It could be something unguessable, like a typo or an in-joke.

In Google Books, “go the winter way” finds only another quotation of Kamp. Just “the winter way” is mostly instances of Tolstoy’s story Master and Man. There are other references to roads in cold climates, including in Eugene Onegin; there’s a Richard Wilbur poem; there’s an Edwin Muir poem.

And in “The Radio Flyers” (© 1928 by Ralph Milne Farley, a pseudonym of Massachusetts state senator Roger Sherman Hoar), a Norse-themed fantasy story, we find:

If the bishop should show them to the door, it would constitute “the winter way,” a refusal of Helga’s hand.

This has the connotation of dismissal, but nothing concrete. But then, in An Icelandic-English Dictionary: Based on the Ms. Collections of the Late Richard Cleasby (Clarendon Press, 1874), under the headword vetr (winter):

vetrar-braut, n. a winter-road, in winter time, Sturl. iii. 140, Dipl. ii. 5: cp. Dan. saying, ‘vise en vinter-vejen,’ to shew one the winter-way, i.e. leave one in the cold.

The Milky Way meaning is separate – the next definition. I can only find vise en vinter-vejen verbatim on the web in quotations of that dictionary, but Danish spelling has been changing quickly, and I’m reasonably satisfied that this is what Kamp meant. It’s certainly what I’ll mean as I try to introduce this phrase to English.

Notes

  1. vruba posted this