an impression around that if you head to Alaska, check out languages
such as Inuit and Yupik, you would find hundreds of words for
snow. And that is… well… it’s actually a fiercely debated topic.
Because many research efforts into the claim (which is credited
first to Frank Boas, an anthropologist) arrive at a conclusion
that for any tally the final totals would depend on your definitions
of the word and guidelines for counting. In many instances, linguists
believe that variations of the same word are being given too much
credit as different. In some cases, they have found conditions
being credited for different descriptions of snow. For instance
(for the following, these are my examples and not specifics from
look at snow as a noun (“there’s snow on the ground”) and
as a verb (“it’s snowing”). In English, most people would
say that we’re talking about snow and shrug it off without
a thought. And yet, there are those that would argue “snow”
and “snowing” are two very different words, and they might
argue that on several different merits.
can experience plenty of different conditions associated with
states of water. Snow, ice, sleet, frost… there you have four
words. Some might chalk frost and ice up as the same. When
counting up different words for snow a very forgiving reading
would have just added all four words to your list. Now start
thinking about slush and more… and you get it… suddenly there
are lots of words in English for snow.
is not an essay looking to think about research papers from anthropologists
or grammatical origins as agreed upon credible linguistic studies.
Instead, it’s simply showing that we all have different ways of
explaining things. And it’s more than snow… snow is just a great
you live in the northeast of the United States, you see a fair
amount of snow. This is especially true in higher elevations and
as you near the border with Canada.
other day I was outside with a shovel, pondering the joys of time
invested in clearing pathways around the house. I was also being
grateful that our current driveway is significantly smaller that
our last driveway, and also happens to not have a major uphill
run. As part of daydreaming while I worked, I wandered along into
the area where I considered all of the different snow we’ve encountered
so far this winter.
isn’t a best snow when it comes to addressing the driveway. If
it’s close to freezing, the snow is usually more heavy and wet.
If it’s incredibly cold, the snow is usually more light and fluffy.
With heavy snow, to be honest, the shoveling sucks. It kind of
packs together in ways that make it difficult to plow out of the
way. That means you need to lift more often. Snowblowers work
wonderfully well with heavy snow. Light snow? Snowblowers hate
light snow. The stuff comes up the chute and just sort of explodes
with a **poof** that disintegrates and then falls,
barely a few feet away and right back in the driveway.
that’s just heavy and wet as opposed to light and fluffy. After
a few days… roads with heavy traffic end up with dirty snow banks…
piles of plowed snow can melt down to piles of dirt and salt.
Snow doesn’t even need to fall… since a steady, strong wind can
send you outside with a shovel or a broom to clear areas that
you had already cleared since the last flake of the most recent
storm had fallen.
the right mix of depth and temperature and foot traffic, and sidewalks
can turn onto an amazing paste that in a fascinating way measures
up to beach sand.
could go on… but you get the idea.
sleet… frost… slush…
with shovels and snowblowers and plows and boots…
are plenty of words in English for snow.
times you’ll hear about how some languages offer more or less
options for the ways they describe things. The multitude of ways
to say love and kissing could be one, while heading out to Hawaii
and saying “aloha” for just about everything as another.
of which ultimately leads to me, in the driveway, with a shovel
and some time for thought.
across America and try asking for a sandwich. From grinders to
tunnels, subs to hoagies, you have a good chance of being served
a plate that looks similar despite the words on the menus (and
at the right places, a good chance of finding an amazing lunch).
All you need to do is decide if you want a pop, tonic, seltzer
or soda to drink with it.
about that soda… how about a Coke? Much as Xerox and Jacuzzi have
become brand names taking over entire product classifications,
there are times when a diverse industry has been rolled into a
single name. Funny, since all rectangles are not squares.
is an amazing thing. The way we classify, define, and express
our thoughts borders on chaos, and truly is without definition
when it comes to rules and guidelines. And before you consider
arguing with me about rules and guidelines, at least consider
how many words have changed their meanings and applications at
least once during your life.
you’ll excuse me, I need to head out and scrape off the windshield
of my car. I’m going for a drive in a bit, and there’s… well…
something on it.