Language Hat has debunked one of my favourite linguistic facts, which has been around for ages and that I’ve often heard quoted by people who seemed to know what they were talking about. I genuinely believed that Eskimos had one hundred words for snow, proving that language is a cultural product manufactured by people to make sense of a common reality. If there’s a lot of snow where you live, you probably have lots of words to differentiate its different types according to texture, weight, colour, etc. whereas people from the Sahara desert would just see white stuff and would only need one generic word.
However, Geoffrey Pullum explains in this entry that it is not the case. Language Hat also provides that famous list of 100 words for snow. Or so I thought at first. I actually excitedly went to read the list before I read the entry properly, which means that I believed what I was going to read was the fruit of hours of painstaking research in polar temperatures. I’m amazed at my own seemingly limitless gullibility and embarrassed to confess that alarm bells only started ringing when I got to:
gristla: deep fried snow