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In The New York Times headline:

How to Time Your Leaf-Peeping Trip This Fall

The symphony of colors that accompanies the arrival of a snap in the air is playing out differently in 2022.

What is this "snap" the author is talking about?

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    @TonyK It's a reasonably common US/Canadian term – to my British eyes it does sound very strange and it doesn't align with the usage of 'peeping' as a standalone word, but that's the nature of language. It's like complaining that the use of 'rolling' in 'rickrolling' is illiterate.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 9:58
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    @dbmag9: Thank you for that! I have learnt something today.
    – TonyK
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 10:02
  • @TonyK From my experience, it's a pretty regional term, confined to areas where fall foliage is worth traveling to see. I lived in several places in the US & Canada and never heard the term; only when I moved to my current home in New England (where the fall colors are quite nice) did I learn the term. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 12:44

1 Answer 1

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We usually explicitly include the adjective in...

a cold snap.
a short period of cold weather

Note that there's no such thing as a hot / dry / wet / windy snap. Idiomatically, snaps are only ever cold.


For reasons that aren't easy to spell out, OP's cited usage is only really idiomatic because of in the air (most Anglophones would do a double-take if neither cold nor in the air was present here). I think maybe that's because the snap = short period [of weather] meaning is sufficiently rare that it needs to be explicitly clarified somehow.


EDIT: When I first wrote this answer, the only relevant definition I could find in generally accessible online sources was the one from Cambridge Dictionary above (explicitly defining just the specific collocation cold snap). I now see that the full (subscription-only) Oxford English Dictionary has two subcategories of their definition 7...

snap (Originally U.S.)
7a A brief and sudden spell of a particular type of weather, esp. cold weather.
7b (With modifying word)
A brief and sudden spell of a particular type of weather; esp. a sharp and sudden frost; a short spell of cold weather (see also cold snap noun).

Giving the lie to my "no such thing..." assertion in the initial text, the full OED includes cited examples of black, cool, bitter, wet, hot and winter snaps. But I still think many native speakers would find several of those "odd" - they're certainly not common usages.

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    In the UK we can talk of 'a nip in the air', but not, I think, a 'snap in the air' Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 12:31
  • @FumbleFingers, are you then saying that it would be same as: "The symphony of colors that accompanies the arrival of [THIS SHORT PERIOD OF WEATHER] is playing out differently in 2022. Please Note that I've removed "in the air" in the rewriting. Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 12:34
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    Not where I live! Or within the context of BBC weathermen, who have definitely referred to the current cold snap within the last few days. I don't recall them talking about there being a nip in the air though (bit "folksy", that! :) Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 12:39
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    @Lynerapintcho: What I meant was that if the text didn't include either "cold" or "in the air" it would probably be seen as "weird" (and/or not understood) by many if not most native speakers. This use of snap (always cold) is a bit like the way all dudgeon is high, all petrels are stormy, and all shift is short. Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 12:45
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    @FumbleFingers - you understood my first comment perfectly. I, too, would never expect a cold nip or a snap in the air. I was reacting to your comment that snaps are always cold. I thought so, as well, but warm ones do seem to be a thing now. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 17:17

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