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English and snow

Looking out of my living room window reminded me of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and led me to speculate that if the cold snap continues, we might find ourselves wanting to find new ways of describing different kinds of snow. Which made me go back to the internet and find that the old saw about many different Eskimo words for snow (which figured prominently in linguistic sociology when I did my degree more years ago that I care to remember) is exactly that – an old saw.

For a start there’s no ‘Eskimo’ language; there’s Inuit, Aleut, and major subgroups within these two main groups. Then there’s the issue of agglunitative forms where sufflixes added to a root create inflections in meaning, in much the same way that adjectives modify nouns in English. Plus, of course, English has a range of words for snow anyway, both as white stuff falling/recently fallen, almost-snow (sleet), the weather conditions when snow happens, the resulting white/grey stuff after it’s been on the ground a few hours and melted slightly, and so on.

More? Look at http://www.derose.net/steve/guides/snowwords/index.html

There’s a list of fictional words for snow, apparently by Phil James but found on http://www.mendosa.com/snow.html. Ones I particularly liked were:

gristla         deep fried snow
MacTla          snow burgers
ertla           snow used by Eskimo teenagers for exquisite erotic rituals
mextla          snow used to make Eskimo Margaritas
mortla          snow mounded on dead bodies
ever-tla        a spirit made from mashed fermented snow,
		popular among Eskimo men
tlalam          snow sold to American tourists
tlanip          snow sold to Japanese tourists
huantla         special snow rolled into "snow reefers" and smoked
		by wild Eskimo youth
tla-na-na       snow mixed with the sound of old rock and roll
		from a portable radio

As a contribution to this I can suggest that in English we should have:

insurasnow – snow that causes traffic accidents leading to insurance claims

wrongkinda – snow that falls on railway tracks

pissart – patterns made in the snow while walking back from the pub

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