Sunday, December 6, 2015
Words for Snow and Water
I grew up hearing that the Inuit have over one hundred words for snow. Nobody could tell me what these words were or what they meant.
Finally, on the web, I found a page that explained the words. They are really phrases combined into words – long words without spaces. The words mean things like snow sparkling in moonlight, snow sparkling in sunlight, hard packed snow, light fluffy snow, avalanche, falling snow, snowflake, big snowflake, wet snow, dry snow, crusty snow – all concepts that we have in English. There may be nuances that don’t translate well, but basically, snow is snow, the world over, whether or not you put in spaces.
Another website made the point that English also has many words for water: lake, ocean, pond, puddle, river, waterfall, pool, raindrop, storm, thunderstorm, drizzle, fog, cloud, mist.
Whether we use single words or phrases, we use language to precisely describe our world. This is a human trait, not unique to any language or any people. Climate does contribute to vocabulary. People who live at the equator don’t need words for varieties of snow.
We English speakers are particularly lucky because we have incorporated words from other languages, and therefore have nuanced synonyms to better understand as well as convey our meanings.