A hundred different words for snow

Myth: Eskimos have a hundered different words for snowSnow. We have had more than our fair share of it recently. Snow and ice caused huge disruptions and chaos throughout Europe lately when bitterly cold polar air masses rolling in from the Arctic Circle brought road traffic to a standstill and caused airports to be closed, fleets of aircraft to be grounded and trains to freeze in – or more exactly to – their tracks. And if the weather forecasters are to believed, there is more – much more – to come.

But although what we have been experiencing since the end of last month would have defied imagination as little as a few years ago when anybody wanting to put their money on a White Christmas would have been turned away by a bookmaker shaking his head pitifully because he did not have the heart to relieve a poor fool of his money, it is still next to nothing for the inhabitants of the cold north.

Eskimos, or Eskimoes, or Inuit, as we should perhaps be calling them, are used to snow – and lots of it. That’s why they have a hundred different words for snow. Or do they?

Well, first it depends on what you mean by Eskimo. There are several different peoples populating the Arctic north and each of them has their own different language. By saying that all these peoples have different words for snow would be the same as saying that Europeans also have a number of different names for snow – which does not really come as a surprise to anyone. What’s more the Aleutian languages these peoples speak are not comparable to European languages: they are built up differently. Such so-called polysynthetic languages have a stem word which obtains a different meaning by adding a certain suffix. This allows the Aleutian people to differentiate between snow that is lying on the ground, snow that is falling from the sky, snow that has started to melt, snow that fell yesterday, snow that has been piled up round the back of the house… We use additional words to describe the state of the snow or its whereabouts, which is why technically speaking we have far fewer words for snow than the peoples of the Arctic north.

But although we may have fewer words for snow, we are getting an extraordinary amount of it for this time of the year – along with plummeting temperatures and a high chill factor which are both contributing to making life that little bit more difficult.

So what can we do for you? Well, what we can do is help you to combat the cold and these blistering Arctic temperatures both at home and in the office with a fine selection of different heaters – oil heaters, electric heaters, hundreds and thousands of different heaters.

It would be interesting to hear what the peoples of the Arctic Circle would have to say to that …

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