Sunday, 10 December 2017

Snow and Snew



A repost from 2010:

Eskimos have no more words for snow than we do. The notion that they do is a myth, a mirage, and a cold white lie. They certainly don't have fifty of the damned things.

We have a few words of our own: snowblizzardsleetslushpowder and neve (a field of even snow). And if we feel this isn't enough, we simply invent compounds: snowstormsnow-flake, snow-flurry, snow drift, snowfall and snowperson.

It is exactly the same in your average igloo. The Eskimo-Aleut languages (of which there are several) have a few bases and many compounds. So the next time somebody repeats this porkie to you, cudgel him.

The urban myth of the Eskimo's verbosity did give rise to the young and useful word snowclone. A snowclone is hackneyed sentence structure. X is the new rock'n'roll. What do you get if you cross an X with a Y?*

The reason it's called a snowclone is that so many hackneyed hacks have written something along the lines of:

If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z.

Snowclone was invented by a language blog called Language Log, which goes to show something, but I don't know what.

The past tense of snow used to be snew, on the same pattern as grow and grew or know and knew. So it snew in the night.

This from Froissart's Chronicles (1525):

Also it rayned, blewe, & snewe, that it was a mervaylouse yvell wether.

And this from Holinshed's describing special effects in a theatrical production of Dido in 1583:

It hailed small confects, rained rosewater, and snew an artificiall kind of snow.



*I imagine that the answer would be that you'd get back together with her.

1 comment:

  1. They perhaps have fifty shapes of Snow White lol
    PS. Snew sounds so cute~~

    ReplyDelete