It’s sometimes claimed that the Eskimos have dozens or even hundreds of words for snow, while we poor Anglophones have to make do with just one. The fact is that the Eskimo languages, such as Yupik and Inuktitut, are polysynthetic—they construct complex words ad hoc out of smaller verbal elements, so though there is indeed no theoretical upper limit to the number of Eskimo words for snow, that fact doesn’t mean much—there’s also no upper limit to the number of words for houses, or elbows, or sleep, or anything else.
Meanwhile, in English, we do of course have more than one word for snow. Besides snow itself, we have words for partially melted snow (slush), for light dry snow (powder), for snow that has melted and refrozen into a rough granular surface (corn snow or just corn), for partially consolidated snow that has passed through one summer season on the surface of a glacier (firn), and for heavy sticky snow that is unsuitable for skiing (crud).
If we don’t limit ourselves only to terms for different consistencies of snow, the possibilities widen further. We have a wide assortment of words for the meteorology of snow and other frozen precipitation (blizzard, flurry, graupel, hoar, ice storm, pogonip, rime, sleet, whiteout, wintry mix, and so on), and another extensive set of terms for the forms that snow and ice take when they’re lying on the ground (black ice, cornice, drift, dusting, sastruga, serac, verglas, and so on). We have thundersnow (“a thunderstorm with snowfall”) and onion snow (“a light snow in late spring, after onions have been planted”). And we have the truly comical sitzmark (“a hollow made in the snow by a skier who has fallen backward”). A few of these terms, such as snow and sleet, are native to English, having been part of our lexicon since the days of the Anglo-Saxons. Others originally came from other languages—German gave us firn and graupel, French gave us serac, Russian gave us sastruga, and Shoshone gave us pogonip, for instance. One by one they have been added to our language, each like a snowflake contributing its own unique beauty to the lexical landscape. Collectively, they represent quite an accumulation.
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