Wait Five Minutes

Every place has its local sayings and phrases, the regionalisms known to those on the “inside” and potentially bewildering to those on the “outside.” Where I grew up near Seattle, it’s common to hear people comment that “the mountain is out,” or perhaps more often, that the mountain “is not out” since overcast is the sky’s perpetual shade. The mountain is Mt. Rainier and on a clear day, its looming visage is hard to miss all over the Seattle area. So when the mountain is “out,” you can see it and when you can’t see it, it’s “in.”  It never seemed strange until I moved away to say that a 14,000 foot mountain could be “in” or “out,” but there you have it. And once I’m back in town, the words fall easily from my lips once again even ten years on (gulp! I moved away a decade ago!?!).

Here in Madison, we have our own words – though nothing is “in” or “out” as far as I know. There’s “hippie Christmas” and “coastie,” as well as the general prefix “Mad,” which attached to any word means it is somehow tied to Madison: Madcity, Madrollin’, Madcat, Madtown, Mad, Mad, Mad.

Orkney mainland, Scotland

But then there’s this: “If you don’t like the weather, then wait five minutes and it will change.” Have you heard this? Have you heard it applied to your town or city? Does it seem like 90% of the world seems to believe this about where they live? Mark Twain supposedly wrote, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a minute.” I’ve heard it said in Seattle, Portland, Madison (all over Wisconsin, really), Minneapolis, San Francisco, Cape Cod, Chicago, and Boston. On a recent trip to Scotland, I heard it again from a man in Glasgow bar. He said it was an old Scottish saying – maybe but it appears to be just as “old” all over the place so perhaps it’s only old in the sense that people have been saying it for a long time.

What is it about that phrase? And what does it tell us about our meteorological feelings? Maybe we say it as a way to excuse bad weather, as though we’re embarrassed about the current conditions but something better will be along shortly – really! Or maybe it’s a reflection on the impermanence of everything, even the weather – that this too will pass, that nothing stays the same, that change is unavoidable. Or maybe we all just live in really tempestuous places.

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