Words Describe

shoveled walk with 2 feet of snow

The only thing that anyone is talking about today (and yesterday, and yesterday’s yesterday and, very likely, tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow) is the snow.

There is a lot of it, to be sure.

It is a big event. Much discussion has been had about the naming of this event.

People were a little concerned about originality–we’ve had Snowmageddon in 2010,  and The Snowpocalypse in 2009. So you can’t go there. Some weather media conglomerate decided to make it a named storm, a la a hurricane. That didn’t catch on. [hmmm, nobody mentioned snowicane]. I’ve decided to use the Blizzard of 2016–kind of old skool.

Other words that we use to describe this snow include snow storm, blizzard, packing snow, powder, drifts, avalanche, moguls, glacier, flakes and flurries.

But people hunkered down since the snow started in earnest yesterday afternoon have many other words that they are using for it. Some of these names are not appropriate for your eyes, my Loyal Reader.

The words come out in inches and then feet. They speak of closings and delays. Words to describe back breaking shoveling and the schadenfreude of seeing the city plow itself stuck in the snow.

We have many words to share our experience, giving lie to the myth of the great Eskimo snow hoax. You know, when some amatuer linguist spawned

…the familiar claim about the wondrous richness of the Eskimo conceptual scheme: hundreds of words for different grades and types of snow, a lexicographical winter wonderland, the quintessential demonstration of how primitive minds categorize the world so differently from us. — Geoffrey Pullum, Professor of General Linguistics

See, it isn’t true that indigenous people of the north have hundreds of words to describe snow. Turns out that, in fact, people who speak English have the same or more words.

Dr. Pullum is quite critical of the full scale and uncritical adoption of this myth.

The prevalence of the great Eskimo snow hoax is testimony to falling standards in academia, but also to a wider tendency (particularly in the United States, I’m afraid) toward fundamentally anti-intellectual “gee-whiz” modes of discourse and increasing ignorance of scientific thought. 

How we describe things matter. Science matters. Critically and objectively looking at data matters. Making things up because they are more interesting or make you look better is fiction. Not truth. Okay Iowa?

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