Sunday, February 20, 2011

Snow Talk

This morning thousands of fat, fluffy snowflakes hurtled earthward, adding to the three or four inches that accumulated yesterday. The snow was cold, powdery, too dry for snowballs. By lunchtime the sun broke through and the temperature climbed, leaving a melty top layer that will freeze into a thick icy crust tonight.

The quality of snow falling and layering into icy strata that, if this weather keeps up, may not melt till the Ides of March changes from day to day. Sometimes from hour to hour. I’m not sure if our language has enough words to describe these changes. But the people living near the North Pole do. According to folks who study such things, the People of the North have more than a hundred words for snow. Here’s a few:

qanuk = snowflake
qanik = falling snow
pirtuk = blizzard or snowstorm
cellallir = snowing heavily
pirrelvag = blizzarding heavily
kaneq = frost
kanevvluk = fine snow particles
nevluk = clinging snow particles
qali = snow that collects on trees
qanikcaq = snow on the ground
natquik = drifting snow
murvaneq = soft deep snow
qengaruk = snowbank
qetrar = crust on snow
upsik = wind-beaten snow
kiaoglaqq = wind-eroded snow
siqoqtoak = sun-crusted snow
tsiko = ice
kuhagaq = icicle
nutaryuk = freshly fallen snow on the ground
qunisqinea = fresh fallen snow floating on water

We may not have a hundred, but here are some of the words the English language has collected to describe the ice and snow of winter: blizzard, blowing snow, corn snow, crusty, drifting, dry, dusting, flurries, frost, glazed, graupel, hail, hard packed, heavy, hoar, ice, meltwater crust, powder, rime, slush, sleet, snowflake, snow squall, snirt, sugar snow, white-out and wind crust.

Do you know more snow words that should be added to the list?

If there is no word to describe the snow in your part of the world, make some up.

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