In the Financial Times article titled 'Now it can be told' (old, therefore not behind a paywall), the author and celebrated historian Simon Schama writes:

J H Plumb, who had been my professor at Cambridge, was its editor and he thought I was the person to finish it. I couldn’t say no, although I remembered the words of the wintry-wise preacher of Ecclesiastes: "My sonne ... of the making of many books there is no end and much studie wearies the flesh."

What does 'wintry-wise' mean?

I thought '-wise' could only be affixed to a noun. Is that not true in general?

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    I would say a "wintry-wise" person means a very wise person, like a being wise the way the winter is steadfast and serious in being cold!
    – Cardinal
    May 30, 2020 at 5:02
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    @Cardinal Thank you. That makes sense. Would you say that 'wintry-wise' is perhaps an alternative way to say 'wintry-mannered'?
    – Taiki
    May 30, 2020 at 5:09
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    Yeah, that might be the case as well, I am not a native speaker of English so, you can take whatever I say with a grain of salt! For some reason, I thought the context is such that the author wants to describe the "wiseness" of that person.
    – Cardinal
    May 30, 2020 at 5:15
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    I wonder if it might refer to the wisdom that has accumulated in old age, which could be called the winter of life. May 30, 2020 at 6:10
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    Yes, I think Schama intended the expression to refer to wisdom, not -wise as in clockwise. The Wikipedia article on Ecclesiastes (a book of the Bible, for those who don't know) contains the comment "Scholars disagree about the themes of Ecclesiastes: whether it is positive and life-affirming, or deeply pessimistic." Presumably Schama sees it as pessimistic (cold and gloomy). May 30, 2020 at 7:54

2 Answers 2


It refers to the pessimistic and rather bleak outlook of the preacher in Ecclesiastes. For example, he thought "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Or otherwise: Life's efforts are in vain compared to the influence of chance; just enjoy what comes.

You will find more on the preacher in https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ecclesiastes-Old-Testament

  • Thank you for your answer! That quote is also very interesting.
    – Taiki
    Sep 3, 2020 at 5:13

I am pretty sure it just means old.

I have seen that old fashioned expression before. "wise" because he has seen many winters, ie... Old

It also refers to the white hair, colored like winter ie... Old

He had charming wintry hair.

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