A Thousand (or More!) Words for Snow
Fri Oct 26th 2007, 2:07pm
This particular urban legend has always been one of my favorites: the Eskimos have dozens (or more!) of words for snow. Wet snow, dry snow, falling snow, fallen snow, drifting snow, etc. Which makes sense, of course, since they're cruising around on their dog sleds all the time from one igloo to another, they must have plenty of time to look at and think about snow, so why not have a much richer language for discussing it.

And like all great urban legends, it has this seed of plausibility which perpetuates it.

Wikipedia has a great article, Eskimo words for snow, which provides some fact and insight into the fiction behind this urban legend. It claims, in short, that the various Eskimo/Inuit languages probably have no more words for snow than English (consider frost, slush, ice, flurry, hail, sleet), but that the polysynthetic nature of the languages create many variations of the same base word to mean different things.

It's hilarious to see this concept perpetuated into other groups, this BBC article claims "Hawaiians have 108 words for sweet potato, 65 for fishing nets, and 47 for banana"; and that "the Albanians exhibit a strange fascination for facial hair. There are no fewer than 27 separate expressions for the moustache." I love it.