Snow words and ideas

“words don’t merely match pre-existing things in the world. Rather, they shape and encapsulate ideas about things–

  • how they are categorized (compare dog vs. canine),
  • how we are interacting with them (compare sheep vs. mutton),
  • how the word functions grammatically (compare the noun cow vs.the adjective bovine),
  • and how we wish to represent our attitudes about them (compare critter vs. varmint). “


With 100 inches of snow and weeks of bitter cold this winter, much of my conversations lately have been about snow.  Languages evolve to suit the needs and the ideas most crucial to the speakers.  To that extent, English seems to fall short in enough words for snow, and my one word for snow in Korean 눈 is even skimpier.

Linguists will nitpick about how to count words.  Basically, what are the main ideas of snow?  Snow lexemes that can be thought of as an independent vocabulary item or dictionary entry.

English snow lexemes: avalanche, blizzard, blowing snow, dusting, flurry, frost, hail, hardpack, powder, sleet, slush, snow bank, snow man, snowflake, snowstorm

Here is a list of lexemes referring to snow and related notions in one Eskimo language, Central Alaskan Yupik.  This list was published by Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

A. Snow particles

(1) Snowflake
 qanuk 'snowflake'
 qanir- 'to snow'
 qanunge- 'to snow' [NUN]
 qanugglir- 'to snow' [NUN]

(2) Frost
 kaneq 'frost'
 kaner- 'be frosty/frost sth.'

(3) Fine snow/rain particles
 kanevvluk 'fine snow/rain particles
 kanevcir- to get fine snow/rain particles

(4) Drifting particles
 natquik 'drifting snow/etc'
 natqu(v)igte- 'for snow/etc. to drift along ground'

(5) Clinging particles
 nevluk 'clinging debris/
 nevlugte- 'have clinging debris/...'lint/snow/dirt...'

B. Fallen snow

(6) Fallen snow on the ground
 aniu [NS] 'snow on ground'
 aniu- [NS] 'get snow on ground'
 apun [NS] 'snow on ground'
 qanikcaq 'snow on ground'
 qanikcir- 'get snow on ground'

(7) Soft, deep fallen snow on the ground
 muruaneq 'soft deep snow'

(8) Crust on fallen snow
 qetrar- [NSU] 'for snow to crust'
 qerretrar- [NSU] 'for snow to crust'

(9) Fresh fallen snow on the ground
 nutaryuk 'fresh snow' [HBC]

(10) Fallen snow floating on water
 qanisqineq 'snow floating on water'

C. Snow formations

(11) Snow bank
 qengaruk 'snow bank' [Y, HBC]

(12) Snow block
 utvak 'snow carved in block'

(13) Snow cornice
 navcaq [NSU] 'snow cornice, snow (formation) about to collapse'
 navcite- 'get caught in an avalanche'

D. Meterological events

(14) Blizzard, snowstorm
 pirta 'blizzard, snowstorm'
 pircir- 'to blizzard'
 pirtuk 'blizzard, snowstorm'

(15) Severe blizzard
 cellallir-, cellarrlir- 'to snow heavily'
 pir(e)t(e)pag- 'to blizzard severely'
 pirrelvag- 'to blizzard severely'
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One Response to Snow words and ideas

  1. Thank goodness it’s just 눈 ㅎㅎ

    Liked by 1 person

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