Edinburgh Haar – What It Is And How To Embrace It

Scotland is surely not the only place in the world where a mist from the sea comes rolling in and blankets everything.

But it does have the distinction of having a word to describe that fine mist, and the word is ‘haar’.

To feel haar on one’s face is like being on the receiving end of spray from one of those fine mist sprayers used for houseplants.

Walking around in haar is like chasing a phantom. Wherever you are standing seems clear of haar, save for the fine wet spray in your face to tell you it is there.

The haar seems to be over in the distance, where everything is white and indistinct. But walk to where the haar is and it disappears. Turn around and look back, and the haar seems to be where you just came from.

The Concise Dictionary Of Scottish Words And Phrases defines haar as

a cold sea mist which drifts in from the North Sea along the east coast.

So Edinburgh is well placed for haar, looking as it does onto the Firth Of Forth that leads into the North Sea.
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Today was a day full of haar, and haar it is:

Edinburgh Castle Shrouded In Haar

Edinburgh Castle Shrouded In Haar

High Street Edinburgh Shrouded In Haar - Looking From Princes Gardens

High Street Edinburgh Shrouded In Haar – Looking From Princes Gardens

How To Embrace Haar

The first thing to know is how to pronounce it. The Scots pronounce the ‘r’ at the end of words. So ‘haar’ is not the same as ‘ha’. The ‘aa’ is long and the ‘r’ is pronounced with a rolling sound. Haaaarrrr. Now you’ve got it.

Get out into it. Watching the haar outside on a dark October day makes the world even more miserable. Put on a jacket and walk out into the haar.

As you walk, do not put your head down. Face up to the haar and feel it kiss your cheeks.

A waterproof or woollen jacket is useful for repelling the wet mist. As you walk, look at the beautiful beads of moisture building up on your jacket.

Now you are a truly acclimated to the Scottish weather.

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    Comments

    1. says

      Greetings Mr Bennett:

      In our little corner of the world, we occasionally have a similar kind of weather, this time of year. Although, our name for it is not quite as unique. We just call it ”fog” or ”mist”, and it drifts in off the Puget Sound. I know, nothing all that interesting.

      Also, fog has such a heavy sound to it. Which I guess it can be. I’ve heard some London fog being referred to “as thick as pea soup”. Not sure where that expression came from. British? American? My guess is, “haar” is not the same thing. Lighter, less depressing, and easier to maneuver through.

      “Haar” has the sound of something that would gently caress you. Hard to see, yet still visible in the distance. Up close, kind of like invisible hair touching one’s face, but still leaving a reminder that’s it has been there. Gentle.

      The next time this “haar” condition occurs, I am going down to our little Scottish pub. I am going to bring the word up in conversation, to see if anyone knows what I’m referring to. My guess is, no one will. I am sure it will be an interesting beginning for a mildly rousing conversation, and who knows, a possible debate, worthy of a wager for another pint.

      Thank you Mr. Bennett, I’ll enjoy that pint!

      J. Edwin Dasher
      Edmonds, Washington
      U.S.A.

      • David Bennett says

        Thank you for your lovely comment.

        Yes, haar is gentle, like a finely spun web.

        London fog, on the other hand, was a product of fog and smoking chimneys – from the Victorian period through to the coming of the Smokeless Zone legislation in the 1960s.

        We had our fair share of smog in Leeds, where I grew up. I recall being let out of school early once because the fog was descending. The bus took forever to arrive, and then we inched forward for the three mile journey to my stop with the conductor walking ahead of the bus and the driver keeping him in his headlights just a few feet away.

        It took six hours to make the journey and I was coughing and sneezing black stuff for days afterwards.

        Ah, the joys of smog, thankfully long gone.

        You can perhaps add that to the story down the pub and get another pint on the strength of it. ;-)

    2. says

      Haar! Wonderful to have a word for it. It almost sounds like our Swedish word «hår», which means hair. I should introduce the haar word to Saint John … we sure know what you’re talking about. Often I think about that fine spray when I get out on the balcony … you get all wet even though it’s not raining.

      There used to be a radio station here before named CFBC. I don’t know what the letters really stood for, but it was jokingly ‘translated’ to Canada’s Fog Bound City..

      • David Bennett says

        How interesting that you have mist/fog too.

        You know, with so many tourists in Edinburgh (even at this time of year) I feel like one of the cognoscenti knowing the word ‘haar’ :-)

        • says

          Here’s a little bit of linguistic synchronicity – today on Facebook the subject of being hirsute (very hairy) came up. The word ‘hirsute’ has its origins in the Old English word hǣr, which is of Germanic origin and related to Dutch haar and German Haar. And I see from Rebekah’s post that it’s also similar to the Swedish «hår» :-)

          I feel there must be an etymological link somewhere with the Scots ‘haar’ and the word ‘hair’, but I have no idea what or why – what do you think? All very interesting anyway, and I love the word ‘haar’ to describe a cold sea mist :-) We get plenty of those here on the North coast of Cornwall.

          • David Bennett says

            That’s neat – the word showing up in different places on the same day. I can’t figure out the connection between haar and hair. I can imagine a connection between bristles and the tiny needles of rain when the haar is driven into one’s face by the wind, but I’m reaching :-)

    3. says

      Loving the linguistic tangent here! Maybe it’s because haar gets all over your face, and so would a beard ;-)
      I used to think a lot of my mother’s [Glaswegian] folks sounded like they were using Germanic words – and the Gaelic and Germanic branches are related; not closely – but they do come off the Proto-Indo-European branch, so it could be the same root!

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