[Home]GreatEskimoVocabularyHoax

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An Eskimo has over a dozen categories for snow.

According to Geoffrey K. Pullum, this is wrong. He bases this on a speech and a research note by Laura Martin (see [1]) from Cleveland State University. It all started with a misreading of Franz Boas' introduction to "The Handbook of North American Indians" (1911). That's it. For what it's worth, Pullam's book is a joy to read. It's a collection of essays he wrote for a humor/comment column in a serious linguistics journal.

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Of course, this is often presented in "and English only has one." Ask a skier about powder. Ask a Minnesotan or Canadian about black ice on the highway. There's slush, snow which is in the process of melting. English is a language of adjectives and euphemism and cant, with regional variation. -- DaveJacoby

Terms for frozen precipitation in English:

  1. Snow. Light fluffy stuff with an open, complex crystaline structure.
  2. Wet snow. Mixture of snow with liquid water. Sticky, heavy, and hard to move.
  3. Sleet. Pellets or roughly cubic crystals.
  4. Freezing rain.
  5. Ice. What you get on the road (and everything else) after a night of freezing rain.
  6. Hail. Large round precipitation built up in layers. Usually described in these sizes: pea, marble, golfball.
  7. Winter mix. Latest langauge from the NWS to describe a combination of rain, freezing rain, sleet, and whatnot when they don't know which one will fall from the sky.
  8. Crust. What forms on top of a snow accumulation when there's freezing rain, or it's warm enough to make it melt and refreeze. Hard to walk through unless you're light enough to stay on top.
  9. Snowpack. Snow, after you drive on it a lot.
  10. Slush. Partially melted snow, usually mixed with road salt. Also, snow that has accumulated on the ice on a lake to such a depth that the ice sinks a little and the water mixes with the snow.
  11. Powder. Skier's term for dry snow without a crust.
  12. Drift. Snow blown into a pile by the wind.
  13. Bank. Pile of snow produced by plowing.
  14. Popcorn snow. Small (<4mm), very light and nearly spherical sticky pellets often falling in clusters of 3-4.

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