In History, Nature, Words

The Eskimos have 50 words for it; we have but one: snow, derived from the Old English ‘snaw’. And that, you would think, should rule out any ambiguity about a forecast of ‘heavy snow’. But it seems not.

Still, who’s complaining? Who’s really complaining? If we really hated the way snow makes us grind to a halt, slide into one another, spend the night in the office etc, we’d have done something about it years ago. Let’s face it, the snow chain was invented in 1904 and you can pick up a set for around 25 quid, but who’s got any?*

As any self-certified psychologist will tell you, when we don’t do anything about a problem it’s because, deep down, we actually get some pleasure from it. And there is something delicious about snow chaos, isn’t there? It’s a great leveller, as Sam Allardyce might say. Sadly for the Scandinavians, they just don’t appreciate that, which is why they’re so orderly in their management of snow, poor things.

That thing about Eskimos having 50 words for snow isn’t an urban myth, by the way. It’s not even a rural myth. It’s an approximate fact first brought to the attention of the non-Eskimo world by a German-American anthropologist called Franz Boas, who spent a year on Baffin Island assimilating himself with the local Inuits. So thoroughly did Boas throw himself into his work that he wrote in a letter to his fiancée, the American Marie Anna Ernestine Krackowizer, “I am now truly like an Eskimo… living entirely on seal meat.”

You can’t help wondering what Marie thought. Here’s a man who has found himself a prospective wife, proposed to her and secured her acceptance, then sailed off to the frozen North for a year, leaving her at home to prepare for life with an assimilated Eskimo who looked like he was going to be something of an embarrassment at dinner parties.

“Anything Franz doesn’t eat, Marie?”

“Um, well, everything but seal really.”

Still, the marriage went ahead and they had six children, including one called Hedwig (a girl, by the way, Harry Potter fans), so the rubbing noses bit clearly didn’t present a problem.

*Order your Balance Snow Chains here.

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