Eskimo Words for Snow

| 12/16/2016 9:47:00 AM

Tags: First Nations, Eskimo, Inuit, snow, winter, nature writing, outdoor living, Jerry Dennis, Michigan,

Sastrugi Snow National Snow And Ice

Sastrugi, or snow dunes, like these have endless variety of shapes. Photo by National Snow and Ice Data Center

A friend called from Chicago to say he was heading to Michigan to cross-country ski and he wanted to know what the snow was like up here. I had to break the news that we were in the middle of a thaw, with the temperature in the 40s, and the trails were a mess.

"How would you describe the snow?” he asked.

“Kind of cruddy,” I said.

Which brings to mind the many Eskimo words for snow. That the Inuit can recite a seemingly endless list has been passed around as fact for more than a century, and I have to admit (because it’s documented, alas) that I once passed it around as casually as anyone. It makes a good story — the fur-clad people of the arctic reciting their hundreds of designations while eager ethnologists took notes. The trouble is, it’s not true.

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