It’s often said that Eskimos have 50, 100, or even 400 words for snow, compared to English’s one, but this is not so. In the first place, there is more than one English word for snow in various states (ice, slush, crust, sleet, hail, snowflakes, powder, etc.). Second, it seems that out of all the languages of Eskimo groups, there are no more than four root-words for snow altogehter…. The number of basic word stems is relatively small but the number of ways of qualifying them is virtually unlimited. Inuit has more than 400 affixes, but only one prefix. Thus, it has many ‘derived words’ as in the English ‘anti-dis-establish-ment-arian-ism.’
John Lloyd, The Book of General Ignorance
Last Sunday evening, it began to snow. It snowed all through the night, a thick but gentle blizzard, and in the morning Orpington was covered in an eight-inch-thick duvet of heavy white flakes. Apparently, even though English winters are cold and wet, this is rare; it hadn’t snowed this much in greater London in two decades. And since it doesn’t happen very often, the powers that be were unprepared and under-equipped to melt the slush fast enough to keep the city running. Motorists shied away from slippery roads, and buses and trains across the southeast were canceled; no big deal for jobless me, but Laura got to take a snow day.
I was up till three in the morning the previous night watching the Super Bowl, so I slept in, while Laura wasted no time to frolic and snap photos.
When I finally rolled out of bed, I went down to lend a hand shoveling the driveway. In lieu of show shovels (which most people in England don’t own), we had to resort to badminton rackets, brooms, garden shovels, and spatulas to clear a path for the car. I hadn’t shovelled snow in probably seven years, but it came back to me like riding a bike; I don’t mean to boast, but I shovelled that snow like a champ. I knew that it was easier to push the snow than to toss it, and I knew to scrape up the stuck bits so they don’t turn to ice later on. I basked in the admiration of my English family, feeling as though I possessed a sort of mystical knowledge passed down from Wisconsinite to Wisconsinite.
Once the driveway was clear (for the time being, anyway – the snow continued to fall until that night), Laura and I went around back to make a snowman. The snow wasn’t wet enough to roll a proper snowball for the base, so we had to pile it up and then pack it down in an arduous process that made our snowman’s body look a bit like a fat parsnip. But when we got the head on and decked him out in a hat, scarf, shallot eyes, sage eyebrows, and the traditional carrot nose, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment and affection towards our snowy friend. The occasion called for hot chocolate.
We were out of hot chocolate, but a bowl of soup served as a fine surrogate. The whole day was quite nostalgic, and it made me realize that snow is just as much a cultural thing as it is a meteorological thing.
P.S.: Don’t you like my clever snow pun in the title? I was debating between that, “There’s Snow Business Like Snow Business,” and “Snow Buttons on Your Underwear.”