We sure have had a lot of types of snowPublished 9:17am Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom
Maybe we just don’t get outside enough. When we describe snow, we have to say things like “hard snow,” “soft snow,” “powder snow,” “snow that melted a little then became hard on top,” “snow that hides ice” and so on.
Frankly, we need more words for the types of snow.
Skiers have several good words. “Concrete” is the term for icy conditions. “Wet concrete” is the slushy crud. When I would hit the slopes in Washington, sometimes the warm ocean influence would reach the Cascades and it would create Cascades Concrete, which made slushy crud that by 5 p.m. became hard crud. In the Sierras, it’s called Sierra Cement.
By the way, “crud” is another good ski term for any snow that is no fun to ski on. “Chunder” is choppy, wet snow.
“Corn” is a ski term for spring snow that forms little balls and is good to ski on. However, it soon turns to wet concrete. “Dump” is a big snowfall.
“Granular” can mean snow made by machines. “Machined granular” is the same stuff tossed around by grooming machines.
“Mashed potatoes” is ungroomed snow that can be sloppy — deep in some areas and thin in others and tough to ski over.
Are there any slang terms for good snow? Yes. “Hero snow” is the best stuff because skiers look good on it. “Powder” is considered good by most skiers, though some novice (flatlanders, especially) find it difficult to traverse through.
I like to get outside in the winter. That’s because the best way to deal with winter is to embrace it.
Ask the local ice fisherman, avid snowmobilers, hard-core disc golfers or the frustrated cross country skiers. This winter, we have experienced quite a few kinds of snow. We had heaps of it. We had crud. We had ice that used to be snow. We had enough melt to let us see patches of brown grass. We had a dusting that covers up where there is grass and where there is icy snow, which makes people slip and fall. And we have had slush.
It’s often said the Eskimos have many words for snow. English pretty much has two words for falling snow (the other is flurries), but we speakers of this mongrel language have a few more terms, as the skiers showed us, for snow on the ground. We just bring them out when we are creative.
There is no single Eskimo language, to be clear. However, a researcher at the University of Texas in 1991, in attempting to clear up what is myth and truth on the matter, offered up terms for snow in Central Alaskan Yupik, a fine language that never gets enough recognition in the Lower 48 states.
He found 15. Some of the words mean snow, frost, blizzard, snow bank, cornice, dusting and other terms for which there are English translations. But here are the handy ones I would like to see English equivalents, followed by my comments in parentheses:
Kanevvluk: fine snow and rain particles
(I wonder if this means the same as sleet.)
Natquik: drifting snow particles
(You probably know how hard and cold it feels to get hit by wind-driven snow that already has been on the ground, versus the kind from the sky.)
Nevluk: clingy snow particles
(It sticks to things, like my truck.)
Aniu: snow on ground
(How handy it would be to have a different word to describe snow on the ground, versus snow in the sky? Rain on the ground is called water, not rain.)
Muruaneq: soft, deep snow
(This is what used to happen more often in Minnesota, before climate change.)
Qetrar: crust on fallen snow
(It makes us feel like snowshoers without snowshoes. At least until we fall through.)
Nutaryuk: fresh snow
(Now this is what snow really means, like in the books we read our children.)
Qanisqineq: snow floating on water
(How cool is it they have a term for snow on water? And it uses three Qs!)
Thanks to Anthony C. Woodbury of the University of Texas for looking into this back in 1991.
Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.