You’ve probably heard that the Eskimos have 20 names for snow, or 40, or even more. (And speaking of names, my professor tells me they are Inuit.) Anyway, this factoid had great currency among motivational speakers, because it got people’s minds working and showed how to think outside your cultural box — except it apparently isn’t true. The way I remember it, the Consultant Debunking Squad at Fast Company magazine looked into this and asked experts in the Inuit language about it and found that the Inuit only have two names for snow: one means “snow falling” and the other means “snow on the ground.” Very practical.
I think we English-speaking Americans actually have more words than that for snow, and I intend to come up with several more. Let’s start with plain old “snow” (1). Then there’s “sleet” (2) which is a kind of snow. And the skiing crowd knows about “powder” (3). Today we had a rather rare variety fall that I dub “cookie dough” (4) [See photo] . It has exactly that consistency, all granulated. I also think “slush” (5) has to be in the “names for snow” category. It sure isn’t rain.
Thinking back over all the Wisconsin and Chicago winters I’ve endured, these additional descriptive terms come to mind:
- pellets (6)
- downy flakes (7)
- ice-in-the-face (8)
- flock (9) — like the stuff people used to spray on Christmas trees, it coats every branch and pole
- sog (10) — the kind that breaks your back to shovel, it’s so heavy
I could probably come up with more, but it’s getting late and I had a hard week, being sick and having two jobs and all. But there’s a little more to the Inuit story. Seems they do have lots of terms for snow, but they’re all based on the two root words. So you have a suffix or prefix that makes “snow falling” into “sticky snow falling,” and turns “snow on the ground” into “perfect-for-making-an-igloo snow on the ground.” You get the idea. Suggest some more, and watch your step out there in that cookie dough, yo.