I could scarcely believe the feebleness of my husband’s little joke in declaring he would take less water with his whisky ‘to help with the drought’. I think he must have been watching repeats of Mock the Week while I am out. But the new cliché is that we are in drought. Sometimes this is preceded by officially. It’s there in the newspapers, although once at least the Guardian said we are ‘officially in a state of drought’.
I can’t remember in drought being used as a set phrase before. It sounds a little technical and in some way like a diagnosis. The obvious parallel as a diagnosis is in shock, or perhaps in denial, but the model, as a technical classification, must be in recession. I shouldn’t be surprised if they begin to speak of negative precipitation, to mean the margin of evaporation over rainfall.
Of course one can be in kinds of weather or in seasons: singing in the rain or the lion in winter. The definite article makes some difference here, and its use varies according to no simple algorithm. One’s hair dries in the sun; one gropes in the dark; bur God lives in light inaccessible.
In drought also seems to belong to a group of meanings to do with condition, like in sickness, in a rage, in the right or in private. Lacking the indefinite article, in drought resembles other conditions such as being in calf, in flower, in grass or in ruin.
Drought itself was formerly used as a word for dryness (as a roast turkey might be dry), without the connotation of privation.