A Lexicon of Snow

One often hears the old tale about how the culture that we exist in closes us off from much of the world around us. This assertion is usually illustrated by the chestnut about the Innuit having so many different words for "snow", implying that they have a greater understanding and sensitivity toward snow than non-Innuit because they have so many more ways to talk about it. This is kind of crazy, because surely the Innuit are more sensitive to snow because they live in snow all the time! Anyone else living there would have an equal appreciation for the subtleties of snow even if they didn't speak Innu or know anything of the Innuit culture. In fact, it might also be crazy because it might not be true. Let's take a look at the various words that the Innuit use for snow and compare them to English words.

Innuit snow lexemes

  1. apun - snow
  2. apingaut - first snowfall
  3. aput - spread-out snow
  4. kanik - frost
  5. anigruak - frost on a living surface
  6. ayak - snow on clothes
  7. kannik - snowflake
  8. nutagak - powder snow
  9. aniu - packed snow
  10. aniuvak - snowbank
  11. natigvik - snowdrift
  12. kimaugruk - snowdrift that blocks something
  13. perksertok - drifting snow
  14. akelrorak - newly drifting snow
  15. mavsa - snowdrift overhead and about to fall
  16. kaiyuglak - rippled surface of snow
  17. pukak - sugar snow
  18. pokaktok - salt-like snow
  19. miulik - sleet
  20. massak - snow mixed with water
  21. auksalak - melting snow
  22. aniuk - snow for melting into water
  23. akillukkak - soft snow
  24. milik - very soft snow
  25. mitailak - soft snow covering an opening in an ice floe
  26. sillik - hard, crusty snow
  27. kiksrukak - glazed snow in a thaw
  28. mauya - snow that can be broken through
  29. katiksunik - light snow
  30. katiksugnik - light snow deep enough for walking
  31. apuuak - snow patch
  32. sisuuk - avalanche

English snow and ice lexemes

  1. ablation - the process of being removed. Snow ablation usually refers to removal by melting
  2. accretion - growth of precipitation particles by collision of ice crystals with supercooled liquid droplets which freeze on impact
  3. anchor ice - Submerged ice attached or anchored to the river bed, irrespective of the nature of its formation.
  4. avalanche - large amount of snow that falls down a slope due to gravity
  5. blizzard - winds of at least 35 miles per hour along with considerable falling and/or blowing snow reducing visibility to less than one-quarter mile for a period of at least three hours.
  6. blowing snow - windriven snow
  7. boilerplate - skiing term for ice that forms from liquid water (as opposed to compressed snow)
  8. bottom ice - ice that is anchored to the bottom of a body of water and cannot float
  9. border ice - ice formed along and fastened to the shore. Border ice does not extend the entire width across the river. Also called shore ice.
  10. breakup jam - accumulation of broken ice pieces that restricts the flow of water; may contain frazil ice or remnants of freezeup jam.
  11. candled ice - decayed sheet ice that takes the appearance of thin vertical crystals shaped like candles.
  12. cellular ice - growing ice crystal that proceeds as a bunch of hexagonal prisms
  13. corn snow - snow that has partly melted and refrozen and acts like ball-bearings
  14. cornice - drift of snow that overhangs a precipice
  15. closed cavity ice - a formation like depth hoar that forms from ground water in underground cavities
  16. crushed ice - for cocktails
  17. crust - hard cohesive layer overtop of softer snow
  18. crystal - regular arrangement of water molecules with long-range order
  19. cubic ice - ice with cubic symmetry
  20. dendrite - hexagonal ice crystals with complex and often fernlike branches.
  21. depth hoar - large (one to several millimeters in diameter), cohesionless, coarse, faceted snow crystals which result from the presence of strong temperature gradients within the snowpack
  22. dry accretion - accretion through sublimation
  23. dusting - very light snowfall, usually of ice crystals that form in the lower atmosphere
  24. evaporative icing - ice that forms in an engine due to the cooling effect from evaporation of fuel
  25. fast ice - sea ice that forms at the shore and remains fast
  26. firn - glacial snow that has survived at least one season
  27. flake ice - ice that is fractured parallel to the c-axis to create flakes
  28. flurry - snowfall combined with wind
  29. frazil - fine, small, needle-like structures or thin, flat, circular plates of ice suspended in water. In rivers and lakes it is formed in turbulent water as supercooled water is brought to the surface
  30. freeze - the process of solidification of water
  31. freezeup jam - accumulation of frazil that restricts the flow of water; may contain some broken border ice pieces.
  32. frost - ice that sublimates onto a surface
  33. frozen water - water in the crystalline solid state
  34. glacier - snow that accumulates over many years with sufficient weight to form ice under the surface
  35. glaze ice - rain that falls on supercooled objects and immediately turns to ice
  36. graupel - snowflakes that become rounded pellets due to riming. Typical sizes are two to five millimeters in diameter (0.1 to 0.2 inches). Graupel is sometimes mistaken for hail.
  37. grease ice - a later stage of freezing than frazil ice when the crystals have coagulated to form a soupy layer on the surface. Grease ice reflects little light, giving the surface a matt appearance
  38. hail - frozen raindrops
  39. hardpack - snow that has been packed to the point where it does not yield to body weight
  40. hexagonal ice - ice with hexagonal symmetry
  41. hoarfrost - frost that grows outward from its substrate (vapour to solid phase transition)
  42. ice - crystalline water
  43. ice I through ice IVX - different crystalline arrangements that form under various temperature-pressure situations
  44. iceberg - part of a glacier that calves into the ocean and floats with the currents
  45. ice cream - frozen mixture of water, sugar and fat that tastes delicious
  46. ice cube - lump of ice used to chill a rye and coke
  47. ice embryo - sub-critical cluster of water molecules
  48. ice floe - pack ice that is moving with ocean currents
  49. ice lens - lens-shaped ice buildup that forms in soils where water moves through pores to join the crystal (responsible for frost heave)
  50. ice shelf - glacial ice that flows out over the sea and remains attached to the glacier
  51. ice stalagmites - stalagmites of ice that form on top of ice cubes when the freezing proceeds inward from the edges
  52. ice wedge - water that freezes in the crevices of a rock and cause mechanical stress through expansion
  53. ice worms - worm-like bubbles in ice cubes caused by exclusion of gas at the interface
  54. igloo - snow house made by cutting blocks from windslab snow and arranging them in a dome
  55. lake ice - ice that forms on top of a lake
  56. melted snow - water that was once snow
  57. metamorphism - changes in the structure and texture of snow grains which results from variations in temperature, migration of liquid water and water vapor, and pressure within the snow cover
  58. mushy zone - region in which ice and solution co-exist
  59. nacelle icing - ice formation on aircraft
  60. needle ice - ice that forms in moist soil, dessicating the surrounding soil (see pipkrake)
  61. neve - glacial ice formed by enormous pressure compressing snow
  62. pack ice - long lasting ice cover over ocean water
  63. pancake ice - circular flat accumulations composed of frazil and slush ice with a raised rim; the shape and rim are due to repeated collisions
  64. permafrost - soil frost that doesn't melt in the summer
  65. pingo ice - huge ice lens that forms underneat a pond causing a hill to rise up to 50m high
  66. pipe ice - ice formation inside an enclosed pipe often rupturing the pipe
  67. pipkrake - needle-like spicules of ice that grow out of the groundwater from moist, loose soil when there is no freezing in the ground; needles are about 1mm in diameter and can be several centimeters tall.
  68. piste - slope of snow suitable for skiing
  69. plate ice - ice that forms on top of still water
  70. powder - new fallen snow that hasn't sintered or metamorphosed
  71. precipitation - the accumulated depth of rain or drizzle and also the melted water content of snow or other forms of frozen precipitation, including hail
  72. polycrystal - a snowflake composed of many individual ice crystals
  73. quinzy - snow cave built from a pile of soft snow that is allowed to set
  74. red snow - blooms of chlamydomonas nivallus in glacial suncups during the summer
  75. rime - a deposit of ice formed when supercooled water droplets freeze on contact with an object
  76. river ice - ice that forms in a river
  77. safety snow - artificial snow at a ski resort that is slower than natural snow (derogatory term)
  78. sastrugi - skier's term for snow that has melted into breaking waves from the sun
  79. sea ice - ice that forms in salt water
  80. shear walls - ice left along shoreline when a freezeup or breakup jam fails and moves downstream
  81. shorefast ice - sea ice that is anchored to the shoreline
  82. sill ice - ice lenses that rupture the ground surface so that the ice is exposed
  83. silver frost - frost that grows from the liquid phase (i.e. from dew) rather than gas phase
  84. sintering - process of minimizing the surface area to volume ratio, similar to recrystallization
  85. slab avalanche - avalanche that begins as a fracture in the surface slab
  86. sleet - mixture of rain and hail
  87. sluff avalanche - avalanche of powder snow much like a sandpile avalanche
  88. slurpee - delicious mix of syrup and ice crystals; the crystals are kept small and round through continuous motion and a high sugar content
  89. slush - wet snow
  90. snowbank - pile of snow from shoveling or plowing
  91. snowcave - cavern dug out of a snow drift
  92. snow core - a sample of snow, either just the freshly fallen snow or the combined old and new snow on the ground, obtained by pushing a cylinder down through the snow layer and extracting it
  93. snowburst - very intense showers of snow, often of short duration, that greatly restrict visibility and produce periods of rapid snow accumulation
  94. snow depth - the combined total depth of both old and new snow on the ground
  95. snowdrift - snow that collects in a ridge due to wind
  96. snowfall - the depth of new snow that has accumulated since the previous day or since the previous observation
  97. snowflake - a cluster of ice crystals that falls from a cloud
  98. snow flurries - snow that falls for short durations and which often changes in intensity. Flurries usually produce little accumulation
  99. snow fort - protective walls built from snow blocks
  100. snow grains - high atmosphere ice crystals accrete rime from supercooled water droplets as they fall.
  101. snow house - shelter built from snow with a roof
  102. snow load - the downward force on an object or structure caused by the weight of accumulated snow
  103. snowman - large balls of snow piled on top of one another to resemble a person
  104. snowpack - the total snow and ice on the ground, including both new snow and the previous snow and ice which has not melted
  105. snow pellets - larger than snow grains but smaller than graupel; formed the same way.
  106. snow rollers - rolled up blankets of snow that accumulate when wet snow falls on icy crust followed by strong, gusty winds
  107. snow squall - a brief, but intense fall of snow that greatly reduces visibility and which is often accompanied by strong winds
  108. snowstorm - heavy snowfall, usually with wind
  109. sublimation - the process in which ice changes directly to water vapor without melting, but also in meteorology the opposite process in which water vapor is transformed to ice (also called deposition)
  110. suncups - depressions in the snow caused by sun melting
  111. supercooled - the condition when a liquid remains in the liquid state even through its temperature is below its freezing point
  112. supersaturation - the condition which occurs in the atmosphere when the relative humidity is greater than 100 percent
  113. surface hoar - the deposition (sublimation) of ice crystals on a surface which occurs when the temperature of the surface is colder than the air above and colder than the frost point of that air
  114. throttle icing - ice that forms in an engine due to the cooling effect of expansion in the carburetor
  115. Tyndall figures - shapes with hexagonal symmetry formed inside an ice crystal due to melting
  116. vein ice - ice in soil that encapsulates solid particles
  117. vitreous ice - water in the solid state without long range order (i.e. a glass)
  118. verglas - thin coating of ice over rocks
  119. whiteout - daylight diffused through low, white clouds such that the snow and the sky are indistinguishable. No sense of direction is possible.
  120. windpack - crust of snow formed by the action of wind
OK, I threw in a bunch of ice-related lexemes in the English list as well, but you can't really exclude them. The point being that we can easily use phrases to describe everything in the Innuit lexicon relating to snow and that we also have a whole bunch of technical words that the Innuit don't, that relate to snow and ice. The second point being that there is a pretty long list of English words that describe snow and ice. In fact, there's certainly a bunch that I haven't yet thought of. If you know of any that aren't on the list, don't hesitate to mail them to me at kmuldrew@ucalgary.ca.

[home] Document last updated Mar. 2, 2000.
Copyright © 1997, Ken Muldrew.