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Which Language Has the Most Words Related to Snow?

Mention the word "snow" to a group of people, and you're like to get a pretty divided reaction. Some love it, while others hate it. And there are those who have some very choice words for snow and the disruption it causes. In regards to language, of course, there are many words all over the world for it, but it may surprise you to learn that in 2015, researchers compiling a historical thesaurus of the Scots language found that there were 421 words related to snow!

For decades, people have tossed around the questionable factoid that the Inuit language has more than 50 words for snow (researchers are divided about whether that's true), but at any rate, the Scots language blows that number out of the water.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Some of the Scots words related to snow include “snaw” (snow), "sneesl" (to begin to snow), “feefle” (to swirl), “flindrikin” (slight snow shower), “spitters” (small drops or flakes of snow), and "skelf" (a large snowflake). “Snaw-pouther” is fine, driving snow, while “feuchter” refers to snow that is falling lightly in odd flakes. Whatever the type of snow, it’s a safe bet that there's a Scots word for it!

To Dr. Susan Rennie, lecturer in English and Scots language at the University of Glasgow, this is no surprise. To her, the number and variety of words in the Scots language for the word “snow” demonstrates the importance of communicating about the weather, which has always been an essential part of the lives of people living in Scotland.

Wish there was a word for that:

  • The online Historical Thesaurus of Scots covers Scots words in popular categories such as sports, games, wood, and weather. Marbles is the “sport” with the largest vocabulary of Scots words, with approximately 369 related Scots words.

  • Academics believe there are even more Scots words out there for snow that they haven’t logged yet, and they welcome public feedback. Members of the public wishing to submit Scots terms related to weather and other categories may get in touch with researchers via the website or through @scotsthesaurus on Twitter.

  • To clear up any confusion – the Scots language, also known as Lowland Scots or Broad Scots, is a sister language to English that is mainly spoken in the Scottish Lowlands, Northern Islands, and parts of Northern Ireland. It should not be confused with Scottish Gaelic, which is a Celtic language.

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