Saturday, February 4, 2012

Degrees of Frost

I recently came across the term "degrees of frost" in Wade Davis' excellent book Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest. It is used to express cold, specifically how many degrees the air is below the freezing point of water.

Jack London also used it in To Build A Fire (1908), his grim short story about a man trying to survive in sub-zero weather:
Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. [...] Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear-flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks.   
I think the term doesn't get much use these days. It's time to resurrect it!

When Mrs Elliott and I awoke this morning it was 17 degrees Fahrenheit outside, or 25 15 degrees of frost.


  1. "Degrees of frost" is a Britishism that I always find confusing. If somebody writes "25 degrees of frost" I first take that to mean 25 below zero, until I stop and do the arithmetic and realize it's actually 7 degrees ABOVE zero.

  2. Six degrees of frost at my place right now.

  3. "If somebody writes '25 degrees of frost' I first take that to mean 25 below zero [...]"

    Which it is in Celsius.

  4. ...shouldn't that be *15* degrees of frost?

  5. Uh . . . yeah. 15 degrees is correct. That's what happens when I try to do basic arithmetic before my first cup of coffee.


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