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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) travelling in cold weather in unsuitable clothes

In the sense that a harsh, bitingly cold wind might feel like it is ‘peeling’ away your clothes or exposed skin, the word peel crops up in a number of expressions describing inclement weather, or else someone ill-prepared for bad weather.

So in eighteenth century English, a peel-the-bones was a particularly piercing wind or gale. A peelringe is “a person appearing stupefied with intense cold,” according to a 1923 guide to the dialect of Roxburghshire—or, as the slightly less sympathetic Scottish National Dictionary puts it, “a thin-blooded shivering skinny person.”

The English Dialect Dictionary defines a peel-a-flee as “a person unsuitably and insufficiently clothed”; apparently the term (which literally means ‘a fly stripped of its wings’) originally described a foppish dandy, whose choice of clothes made him stand out from a crowd.

And on the subject of wearing inappropriate clothing, peeling is the act of travelling in bad weather, wearing clothes unsuitable for inclement weather—or, as The Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia (1824) puts it, “travelling in a windy, wild day, with light clothes on.”

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