Thursday, January 21, 2010

20 different words for snow

It’s a well-known fact (or at least it’s an oft-quoted factoid that may or may not be entirely true) that Eskimos have more than 20 different words for snow.

Actually, the precise figure may be just one, or 14, or even 372. It depends a bit on which structural linguist you happen to be talking to.

“What’s old Dixon on about?” you ask. “The snow’s all vanished. We’ve had our share and that’s it for another 30 years.”

Well maybe, and maybe not. At the time of writing (Deadline? What deadline? It’s only Wednesday morning...) we’ve just had another dollop land on us, and there’s more forecast for later in the day.

So just in case of emergencies, or if you need to explain to your boss why you couldn’t get to work for the fourth morning in a row, here’s your essential cut-out-and-keep guide to the Naming of Snow.

Proper snow: Or the white stuff, as it’s sometimes called. It falls quietly in the night, the skies clear by early morning and everyone awakes to a crispy, crunchy and brilliantly sunny winter wonderland. Snowball fights, snowmen, sledging: it’s the kind of snow that makes the world a better place. Until it turns to...

Snudge: Grey, icy and deeper than your stoutest boots. The stuff you think you can drive on safely, but discover too late that you can’t.

Snowball warning: Not to be confused with Global Warming.

Sneet: Gurt wet floppy flakes falling out of the sky. Only settles on the top of your car, then slides off onto your trousers when you try to get in. Alternatively known as Snail, Snush, and Strain.

Powder: Posh French snow, the kind they get in ski resorts like Meribel, Courchevel and Babibel. Far too fancy ever to make it to this side of the Channel.

Snarbage: The sort of snow that falls just before your weekly waste collection and stops it in its tracks. It fell on Weston and other areas of Bath for two weeks running. Those of us whose rubbish day is Thursday hadn't seen hide or hair of a dustcart since New Year’s Eve.

Never mind, though: it’s been so cold that nothing has got too offensively rancid, and the foxes, rats and badgers are all hibernating (aren’t they?) so they haven’t ripped the black bags open. Much.

We’ll just hang on to all our crud until things get back to normal. If they’d switched to fortnightly collections we probably wouldn’t even have noticed.

(And while we’re on the subject, have you noticed that the Christmas Tree Fairy hasn’t come round this year yet either? Every pavement you walk down is garnished with five or six discarded and dispirited-looking conifers waiting for her to wave her magic wand and turn them into thin air. Evidently lots of people believe in the Christmas Tree Fairy.)

Innaquitluk: Snow that has been walked through by a polar bear on the far side of a high mountain.

And that really is enough snow. Please – Ed.

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