As a former teacher and mother of three, a prediction of snow was exciting and tense. Will it be enough to close schools? We watched the weather reports closely and learned about the best conditions for the maximum amount of snow to fall. We anticipated sleeping in and possibly going sledding. We remember fondly times when the family went to the Art Museum area and had great times sledding on the hills. A snow day was magical to us so when it snows, my old thoughts kick in and I wish for copious amounts of snow. Not for me anymore, I am retired and my children have children of their own, but I wished for snow anyway. Here is hoping that there is enough snow to keep you home at least once each winter!
Let’s look at a couple of things about snow:
Precipitation in the form of ice crystals is called snow. Snow originates in the clouds when temperatures are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) and when water vapor in the atmosphere condenses directly into ice without becoming a liquid first (this is called deposition). Additional water vapor from the air is absorbed and frozen on the ice crystal from the surrounding air and it grows into a snow crystal or snow pellet and falls to Earth.
I was reminded of something I must have heard over 50 years ago when I was a child growing up in Chicago, a place that has lots of snow. I remember hearing that the Eskimos have “over 50 words for types of snow.”
This kind of linguistic phenomenon makes sense. Language evolves to suit the ideas and needs that are crucial to the lives of the speakers. People who live with snow and ice all the time need to know things like whether the ice is fit to walk on or whether a person will sink through it. Scientists and linguists say humans speak various tongues not to make it difficult for all of us, but to express their experiences in the jungle or in the desert, or in the cold and ice.
Anthropologist Frank Boas is credited for first citing that there are lots of words to describe snow when he was traveling though Baffin the 188s. There has been a lot of academic discussion as to whether his statement is true, but it seems as the controversy has been settled if you look at the idea of polysynthesis. Polysynthesis is the formation of a word by the combination of several simple words. Many of the languages spoken by people in the far north combine many suffixes to make various words.
“The Eskimoan language group uses an extraordinary system of multiple, recursively addable derivational suffixes for word formation called postbases. The list of snow-referring roots to stick them on isn’t that long: qani- for a snowflake, api- for snow considered as stuff lying on the ground and covering things up, a root meaning “slush,” a root meaning “blizzard,” a root meaning “drift,” and a few others—very roughly the same number of roots as in English. Nonetheless, the number of distinct words you can “derive from them is not 50, or 150, or 1500, or a million, but simply unbounded. Only stamina sets a limit.”
For more information on language and the controversy about snow words check out these sites: