Thursday, January 17, 2008

Snow Place for the Frigid



Just like the Wolf Man each month during a full moon, the myth that the Inuit have hundreds of words for snow--unlike any other group--keeps popping up.

If you’re tempted to believe the myth, I recommend Geoffrey K. Pullum’s 1999 book, The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language. [ ISBN: 978-0-226-68534-2 or ISBN-10: 0-226-68534-9 ]

I thought of this as I was trudging along behind my snow thrower today. It occurred to me that English is no slouch when it comes to snow terms, especially if you live in the northern states. Aside from all the compound variations of the word snow--including attached descriptive adjectives--we have frost, sleet, ice, slush, powder, blizzard, dusting, flurry, hardpack, sneet, and so on.

And, of course, there are the hidden snow terms, thanks to Latin and Greek roots. Greek gives us chion-, and Latin chimes in with niv- and the occasional ninguid-. In fact, we once used the word ninguid to mean “covered with snow.”

• There is a mineral named chiolite that sports white translucent crystals.
Chionodoxa is a plant with blue flowers, but because it blooms very early, it is called “glory of the snow.”
• One species of hedychium (“sweet snow”) has fragrant white flowers.
Nival means snowy, resembling snow; formed from or in snow.
Nivated: produced or affected by nivation. [see next]
Nivation: erosion of the ground beneath and at the sides of a snow bank undergoing seasonal melting, resulting in the formation of a shallow depression.
Niveous: snowy, resembling snow; white and lustrous like snow.
Nivose: The fourth month of the French Republican calendar (introduced in 1793), extending from 21 December to 19 January.
Nivosity: snowiness; a resemblance to snow.
Nixious: snowy. *The Oxford English Dictionary points out that this is an interesting exception to a general trend. Normally, words are formed from the genitive stem [nivis] rather than from the nominative singular [nix].
Transnivean: being or living beyond the snows.

SIDEBAR: All about snow

SIDEBAR: McFly--Let It Snow

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