February 26, 2010
The other day I was talking to someone about how the Eskimos have thirty-seven words for "snow", and he told me that’s actually a myth. Okay, maybe it’s not the Eskimos. Maybe it’s the Tlingits or Netsiliks or Aztecs who have fifty-three words for snow. Or maybe they all have just one word for snow, but it would make sense if they at least distinguished between different types of snow. This winter alone I’ve seen at least half a dozen different types of snow. There’s wet snow, dry snow, snow that’s got a crust on top of it, yellow snow that, if you’re lucky, you can talk your best friend’s kid brother into eating. There’s the perfectly pure white snow that covers everything with a gently undulating blanket that’s luminous under a full moon, and there’s the dirty gray snow that gets piled up in the parking lots and that will still be there in May, even though it will get smaller and smaller. There’s the stuff inside snow globes that looks like snow but really isn’t. I once broke open a snow globe just to see what that stuff was, and then I got my best friend’s kid brother to drink it, but that’s another story. We speakers of English-wait, is it "We speakers" or "Us speakers"? Anyway, the English language has different words for snow. There’s a distinct difference between flurries and blizzards, after all, even if it’s just one of degree. Sure, it’s all snow, and we’ve learned that it’s a myth that no two snowflakes look alike because even when it’s only flurries there are so many flakes it’s impossible that they’re all different. Then again I’ve seen a lot of weather reporters and not only were they all distinctly individual, they were also all flakes. Anyway, the other day there was a type of snow that I think we really need a term for. It was fake-out snow. It looked like a blizzard but acted like flurries. It looked like it was snowing really hard for hours, but when I actually went up to the window and looked out there was no accumulation. The snow wasn’t even touching the ground. It was as though all the snow just dropped into the atmosphere at once and the wind was blowing it all around in circles. It was like I was trapped in some giant snow globe, and I just knew that at any minute the whole world would be sliding down some giant kid brother’s throat.