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Author Topic: Eskimos have multiple words for snow?
Bill
The Red and the Green Stamps


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This one's a classic, one I've heard before, but can't seem to find any reference to on Snopes:

"The Eskimos use more than one word for snow."

Believe it or not I really have to know the answer to this for some research I'm doing at work.

Anyone happen to know offhand, or without going to any trouble, point out some kind of trusted source that could answer it?

Thanks in advance.

Thanks.

Bill

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Ganzfeld
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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Here's the Straight Dope's answer
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Yleemjseg
Deck the Malls


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I think the having multiple words for snow has gotten more attention as a trivial item that it really deserves. We also have multiple words for snow in enlgish; they just happen to be easily observed compound words.

Powdery snow, falling snow, wet snow, etc.

I noticed that most of the Inuit words had 'aq' or 'eq' in there somewhere, so i figured that was the root of the word and the rest were add ons to express the description.

So, it's similar to english, except english often likes to put spaces between the words in compound words. German gets laughs for its huge words as well, but it is the similar phenomenon. Rather than coming up with a whole new word for something (usually based on latin or greek roots), a compound word is devised. SO our telephone, a compounding of tele- (far) and -phone (sound) is equivalent to the german Fernsprecher, which is fern (far) sprecher (speaker). Same process, just formed without using terms from a different language.

Some languages just like to use descriptions as words, rather than making up new ones. There is an aboriginal language (i can't remember which, but it way be Inuit (or maybe Ojibway (it's not really important to the example))) that uses for the word pie a description of the ingredients and partial recipe. It's a very long word that literally translates as something similar to: crushing flour, adding water, rolling it out, with fruit inside.

I imagine a pie shop having to have a large catalogue or wall sign to list its wares.

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Bill
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Thanks for the replies.

Thanks.

Bill

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Steve
Happy Holly Days


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Stephen Pinker's book The Language Instinct and a book called Language Myths both also deal with this.
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TwoGuyswithaHat
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When I was living in Nunavut we got bored and decided to come up with as many different types of snow as we could think of. Granted we were well lubricated with several bottles of rye at the time.

However, one must keep in mind what one means by "Eskimo." The inuit of Canada claim that the inhabitants of Alaska are Eskimo, while they are inuit. As well there is no one Inuit language. Even the variations within Nunavut itself are staggering.

Inuktitut, especially in the eastern Arctic is a growing and thriving language. After all, they have a word for hippopotamous.

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In politics, absurdity is not a handicap - Napoleon Bonaparte

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Troberg
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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I don't doubt for a moment that they have lots of words for snow. One needs that when it's such an important part of life. It is a huge difference between dry, powdery snow and wet snow, ice that you can walk on, ice that does not hold, snow that you can ski on, snow that is soft but has a hard crust that is almost hard enough to walk/ski on, snow that you can make snow balls out of, or snow that doesn't stick together as snow balls.

I think that even Swedish, which is not that much arctic, has at least 400 words for different kinds of snow and ice (about 380 of these are derogatives, about 300 can't be said in civilized company).

Also, as someone said, languages are different. For instnace, wet snow in Swedish is blötsnö, more or less a literal translation, but packed into one word. As I have understood it, the Eskimos go even further, crunching together half a sentence into one word.

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/Troberg

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Don Enrico
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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To expand on Yleemjseg's answer: German has different words for snow, too, but (as Swedish) packed into one word: Powdery snow would be "Pulverschnee", snow that is wet and sticks together is "Pappschnee", freshly fallen snow is "Neuschnee" and so on.

By the way: "Fernsprecher" ceased to be used in the German everyday language decades ago. It's "Telefon" today.

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My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling, but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places. - Pooh Bear

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Danvers Carew
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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According to the Scots Thesaurus, the Scots have at least 218 different words for types of rain, fog, and mist. That's different words, and not just compounds. For instance: dreich, plottin', plowterin', smir, haar, drookit, raff, weety, drush, vaanloop, glashtroch, etc, etc.

However, as with the Inuit example, it doesn't really tell us what we think it does. No Scottish person will know or use all these words - these are words from different regions of Scotland. Vaanloop, weety, and drush are Shetland words, raff is an Orkney word, dreich is a North-East word, glashtroch is a Lallans word. This shows that there's a lot of variation between regions, and that the Scots language can be quite poetic and onomatopoeic - it doesn't show that Scots can distinguish and label 218 distinct variations of rain, mist, and fog.

Similarly, UK slang has hundreds of synonyms for 'drunkeness' - it doesn't mean we are so well-versed in degrees of drunkeness that we can identify anything more than about 5 different levels - 'mildly drunk', 'drunk', 'very drunk', 'almost unconscious', and 'passed out'. The vast number of synonyms (there are also hundreds of words for the genitals) comes down to regional differences, and evolution of language, and the fact that these are areas which continually crop up in conversation.

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Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

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Don Enrico
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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quote:
Originally posted by Danvers Carew:
According to the Scots Thesaurus, the Scots have at least 218 different words for types of rain, fog, and mist.

McKenna's All Weather Hauliers, anyone?

And 10 points for reference.

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My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling, but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places. - Pooh Bear

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Phil'sGirl
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


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quote:
Originally posted by Don Enrico:
quote:
Originally posted by Danvers Carew:
According to the Scots Thesaurus, the Scots have at least 218 different words for types of rain, fog, and mist.

McKenna's All Weather Hauliers, anyone?

And 10 points for reference.

So Long and Thanks For All the Fish by Douglas Adams.

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"Nobody ever looks like McCarthy, sir. That's how they get in the door in the first place" Toby on The West Wing

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NZUL
Deck the Malls


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Close. I'd go for The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams instead.

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"We don't keep a certified whale-vomit expert on staff." - Larry Penny, Director, Natural Resources Department, Town of East Hampton

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Senior
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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What is "the Eskimo language?" There are Eskimos living from Greenland to the Aleutians. Do they all speak the same language? Not only no but hell no. According to one website (which I lost and can't find again), the Inuit-Eskimo-Aleut language family has 11 distinct languages and over 30 dialects.

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Ad astra per asparagus.

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Don Enrico
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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The points go to Phil'sGirl! It's So long and thanks for all the fish (see index)

There's an extra point because I messed up the name - it's actually "McKenna's All-Weather Haulage".

That's a total of 11 points!

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My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling, but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places. - Pooh Bear

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TwoGuyswithaHat
Happy Holly Days


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quote:
Originally posted by Senior:
What is "the Eskimo language?" There are Eskimos living from Greenland to the Aleutians. Do they all speak the same language? Not only no but hell no. According to one website (which I lost and can't find again), the Inuit-Eskimo-Aleut language family has 11 distinct languages and over 30 dialects.

And don't forget the Innu down in Labrador.

As an aside, English in Inuktitut is known as Quadlunatitut.

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In politics, absurdity is not a handicap - Napoleon Bonaparte

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Phil'sGirl
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


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Yay, points!

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"Nobody ever looks like McCarthy, sir. That's how they get in the door in the first place" Toby on The West Wing

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