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The Question:

Just how many words do the Inuit have for snow?

The Answer:

Legend has it that the Inuit language has dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of words for snow. It is claimed that this is because their environment has so much snow that they needed a larger vocabulary on the subject.

As is often the case, legend is completely wrong, based on a string of misquotations that can be traced back to a 1911 article naming four Inuit root-words for snow. More information on this can be found in The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, by Geoffrey Pullum.

You may also be interested in an article by Anthony Woodbury: Counting Eskimo words for snow: A citizen's guide. He sets out a list of words related to snow in the Yup'ik Eskimo language, in which one might count fifteen, many related to one another.

English is no slouch, either: we differentiate between snow, sleet, freezing rain, hail, slush, flurries, blizzards, powder, hardpack, and more.

—The Editors


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