The right word

It was Mark Twain who said:

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

As I walked home the other night I tried to work out what words I would use to describe the weather.

It was late February. Summer, the hottest month and we’d had fifteen days straight of temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius.

It was hot, but it wasn’t scorching heat, because a scorching heat is a clear, burning heat that brings in mind the Drifter’s song Under the Boardwalk, where …

“your shoes get so hot you wish your tired feet were fireproof.”
[Kenny Young/Arthur Resnick]

Nor was it that variation of scorching heat that seems so uniquely Australian, maybe because I only ever come across it in the bush, usually in granite hills. That heat where each and every gum leaf is absolutely still, but is given the illusion of movement because the heat rising from underfoot makes the air shimmer; where the only things that moves are the ants, and the only sounds you can hear are the cicadas.

It wasn’t a dry heat at all. We’d had thunderstorms earlier in the day. It had stopped raining, but there were lowering black clouds with lots of moisture in the air, and while it was hot, it wasn’t as hot as it had been the last few days.

It wasn’t balmy, because balmy is warm, with just a of dampness in the air and ideally a light breeze that makes you want to dance.

Maybe muggy, but the clouds were very black and while I associate mugginess with clouds to me they’re usually higher up, and a not-so-dark grey when it’s muggy.

Sultry, I finally decided. The weather was sultry.

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