A myth perpetuated by a series of linguistics scholars, starting with Franz Boas in 1911, who reported on four "words" for snow in Eskimo language. Eskimo languages form words differently than in English, and there is no one-to-one comparison between the two. In Eskimo, a root will be made into an almost limitless number of "words" by applying multiple suffixes. Boas' reference to the snow words was tied to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and then perpetuated itself as evidence of the link between language categories and thought.

10 words for ice and snow from Labradoran Inuit (Inuit is one of many Eskimo language and not a word for snow in case anyone was confused). There are 49 words for different types of snow in Western Greenlandic in its different forms such as "frost" and "icy mist", which is a strech, but still. I don't feel like listing them all here. If you are interested, visit:


More general discussion of this can be found at http://www.urbanlegends.com/language/eskimo_words_for_snow.html and http://www.public.iastate.edu/~honeyl/derrida/eskimos.html

The average English dialect has just as many words for snow as the average Inuktitut dialect. After spending about ten minutes with Google, I found these root words for "frozen precipitation":

(Source: http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/5/5-1293.html)

The list increases dramatically if skiers' technical terms (pack, powder, etc) or the many slang terms for cocaine are included.

The urban legend in question derives from the agglutinative nature of the Inuktitut language; because the definition of what makes a word and what doesn't is a little foggy, compound words (compare English snowball, snowflake, snowstorm, snowblind, snowfall, snowman, snowdrift, snowplow, etc.) get counted and over-counted.

On the other hand, English has numerous words for mud, more distinct than the snow roots; see http://www.alt-usage-english.org/ucle/ucle9.html

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