Everybody has heard that the Eskimos have over forty different words for snow; quite a few people also know that this is an urban legend. What you probably did not know, however, is that Finnish does have over 40 words for snow -- at least if we stretch the definition a bit to include all forms of frozen precipitation. Please note that absolutely no compound words are included, and I have even attempted to avoid including multiple words from the same root, eg. quite a few of these nouns could also be made into verbs or adjectives.

Frozen precipitation that is still falling

  1. lumi: snow
  2. pyry: snow shower
  3. myräkkä: snowstorm
  4. rae: hail
  5. räntä: sleet
  6. tuisku: snow shower with strong wind
  7. laviini: a small avalanche
Frozen precipitation mixed with water
  1. hyhmä: snow floating atop water
  2. loska: very wet snow; snow, water and mud mixed together
  3. sohjo: slush; snow and water mixed together
Frozen precipitation atop large bodies of water
  1. ahto: pack-ice (broken & refrozen ice)
  2. ahtauma: a formation of pack-ice
  3. jää: ice
  4. kide: ice crystal
  5. kohva: gray ice formed from wet snow
  6. paanne: multi-layered ice (typically waves crash on top and freeze)
  7. railo: pressure ridge in ice
  8. röpelö: uneven ice
  9. tökkö: ice with frost on top
Frozen precipitation on the ground
  1. iljanne: a thin layer of snow atop ice
  2. hanki: a even layer of snow on the ground, esp. if enough for skiing
  3. huurre: rime; granular frost (the white stuff in your freezer)
  4. härmä: frost
  5. kinos: snow drift; a loose pile of snow, esp. one formed by wind
  6. kaljama: a thick layer of ice on the ground, lethal in the spring
  7. kuura: hoarfrost; frozen dew
  8. nietos: a large, hard pile of snow (may be refrozen)
  9. nuoska: "snowballable" snow, usually formed when powdery snow melts a bit
  10. polanne: a hard layer of compacted snow
  11. tykky: large chunks of snow, esp. when frozen onto trees
  12. viti: freshly fallen powdery snow
Frozen precipitation after human or animal intervention
  1. avanto: a hole in ice
  2. jotos: reindeer tracks in snow
  3. latu: a ski trail in snow
  4. rannio: a reindeer path in deep snow
Onomatopoetic verbs for walking on snow
  1. nirskua
  2. narskua
  3. kirskua
  4. nitistä
  5. narista
Dialect words

Some of the above are pretty obscure, but these are downright bizarre. Finns who do not speak the dialect in question (marked in parentheses if known) will not understand these. And note that this is only a small sampling, linguists have recorded literally hundreds of these.

  1. hölse: slush
  2. höty: loose snow
  3. höttyrä: loose snow
  4. höyty: loose snow
  5. judake: reindeer track in snow (Lapland)
  6. klossakko: slush
  7. komo: raised ice
  8. kieppi: snow pile
  9. mora: uncompacted, unskiable snow (Lapland)
  10. triimu: snow pile (West)
  11. triivu: snow pile (West)
  12. purku: snow shower (East)
  13. pöykky: snow pile (Tampere)
Borderline cases

Depending on context, these may or may not refer to snow.

  1. keli: weather conditions; the "skiability" of snow
  2. pulveri: powder; very cold, fine, powdery snow
  3. valli: wall, blockage; a wall of snow (natural or manmade)
But guess what?

Despite all this, Finnish lacks the verb "to snow"! That's right, to say "it is snowing", Finns have to state sataa lunta ("it is raining snow") or more colloquially tulee lunta ("snow is coming"). To fix this, I have used the noun lumi (snow) to derive the verb lumista (to snow), as in ulkona lumisee, "it is snowing outside". Alas, my efforts to propagate this meme have so far been largely unsuccessful...


So what does all this add up to? Not much, necessarily. It is fairly obvious that a language spoken in a northern climate like Finland will develop lots of shorthand to explain common weather conditions.1 This does not prove the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, since the concepts themselves are still explainable in English; you can still probably imagine what large chunks of snow frozen onto tree branches look like without knowing the word tykky. And, on a personal note, as a typical Finnish city dweller who spends most of this time safely indoors in places with central heating, I find much of the vocabulary above just as bizarre and useless as my gentle reader probably does.

1: Incidentally, the Sami language spoken in Lapland has even more excruciatingly detailed words for snow. Some of the weather-related terminology used by Sami reindeer herders can be found here: http://tuikku.urova.fi/avoin/poronhoito/terminologia.htm


Sources used for this list include, but are not limited to, the following:


And cheers to vuo for comments and additions.

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