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The 44 Different Words for Snow and Ice in Inuit Languages

Updated on November 28, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish offers 25+ years successful experience in medicine, psychology, STEM courses, and aerospace education (CAP).

How many names have you called your latest snow storm?
How many names have you called your latest snow storm? | Source

Misinformation and Disinformation

Little Miss Know It All is a favorite character from a set of children's books about how to get along in life. It seems that she has escaped the books and is sending emails and newscasts of misinformation.

  • Email circulations that contain urban legends draw in the unsuspecting public like an industrial vacuum cleaner and encourage them to forward this misinformation.
  • False news articles attempt to discredit scientific and historical evidence, including articles that insist that the truth is an urban legend.

Incorrect information about languages and words is broadcast every winter.

All About Snow

There should be a special word for this type of snow and ice, wouldn't you say?
There should be a special word for this type of snow and ice, wouldn't you say? | Source

Nonsense and Languages

Stuff and nonsense! Attention seekers often publish disinformation for attention, and perhaps a good laugh on the public.

It is not enough that we have a lack of correct education in some of our schools. We must have proud anti-truth buffs at work. They are not Orson Welles who played a joke on the public with War of the Worlds. They believe that they are correct.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

 "What are the 60 Canadian or Eskimo words for snow?"

This is an interesting question. In the 1980s, rumors circulated to the existence of 35 words for snow. In 2010, it is alternately 60, 75, 100, or 400 words, according to different sources. Some people send emails that there is only one or four words and these make a most annoying type of spam. I wonder who cares? Is it a PhD dissertation topic?

What you'll find, until someone receives a grant to live among the Circumpolar Peoples around the top of earth for 10 years and record each word for snow, is that the Inuit-related peoples may have two dozen different words, but probably not 400.

Among Northern European, Asian, Alaskan, Canadian, and Greenland-area Inuits and relations that somehow deniers do not want to think are related, there may well be 100 words for snow, but we don't know for sure.

Moot Court

Reverend Jesse Jackson performed a Saturday Night Live monologue once called The Point Is Moot. With that performance, he proved that he should have his own TV show and I don't know why he doesn't. Here are some other moot points -

First of all, there is no such thing as an Eskimo. That's a term in the same slop bucket now as Red Man for a Native American. Eskimo Pie is an ice cream treat and Red Man is chewing tobacco.

Therefore, no Eskimo words at all exist for snow - perhaps for choco-covered ice cream, yes. It's true that you can make ice cream from snow, but not from chewing tobacco. Ice cream covered with chewing tobacco may or may not sell.

Secondly, since the advent of global warming, it no longer snows on Earth least not along the northern coast of Alaska, where the Native Alaskans are moving their village 40 miles inland to avoid the approaching shoreline that is overtaking them as the pack ice melts (PBS; Smithsonian Channel).

In addition, NASA satellites recently discovered the Northwest Passage, opened by melted ice in northern Canada, where additional Indigenous Peoples live and watch the ice disappear along with their livelihood in ice fishing.

The words for snow could be embroidered or produced in illuminated manuscript for museum display or a hefty coffee table book, like An Inconsiderate Truth. Strike that, I mean An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore.

The Oral Tradition among Indigenous Peoples of the north and the snow capped mountains could preserve the names of snow, with stories passed on from elder to younger generations. Among so many Circumpolar Peoples, there are must logically be several words for snow.

From All the Inuits

We must check all the dialects of Inuit and related languages, before deciding that there are only a dozen words for snow, ice, or both. Already found are at last 44.


"One develops a deeper understanding and appreciation for one of the biggest differences amongst Inuit just by listening to all the dialectal variations from Greenland, Sanikiluaq, Grise Fiord, Kangiqsuk, Arviat, Kugluktuk to Barrow, Alaska."

-- Edna Elias. Dialects show Inuit language diversity; February 22, 2010 via Northern News Service.

Let it qanik, let it qanik, let it qanik!

Let it qanik, let it qanik, let it qanik!
Let it qanik, let it qanik, let it qanik!

Some terms for SNOW in the Eskaleut language Inuktikut

(References, above links. There is also linguistic discussion afoot about words vs. lexemes in variants of snow, which might or might not shorten the list somewhat.)

  1. aniu
  2. apijaq
  3. aput
  4. isiriartaq
  5. katakartanaq
  6. kavisilaq
  7. kinirtaq
  8. mannguq
  9. masak
  10. matsaaq
  11. natiruvaaq
  12. pukak
  13. qannialaaq
  14. qannik
  15. qiasuqaq
  16. qiqumaaq

PLURAL: -- piirsituq, pirsituq.

ICE in the same language:

  1. aggutitaaq
  2. ivuniit
  3. killiniq
  4. nilak
  5. puttaaq
  6. quasaq
  7. sarliarusiq
  8. siku
  9. sikuqraaq
  10. tuvaq (Tuvoc, isn't he on Star Trek® Voyager?).

In the mid-1980s, additional words for snow appeared in author Steven A. Jacobson's Yup'ik Eskimo Dictionary (1984) - I believe he is the person that lived among the Inuit for 20 years, but am not sure; but he found nowhere near 60 or 100 words. Geoffrey Pullum published The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax in 1991 to debunk the myth of "100 Eskimo words for snow" that was going around Fax machine spam letters for 15 years.

Additional words and definitions for snow and ice found by a researcher at SNOW WORDS (1979).

  1. akuvijarjuak = thin ice in the sea
  2. anijo = snow on the ground
  3. hiko = ice (generic)
  4. hikuliaq = thin ice
  5. ivuneq = high pack ice
  6. kaniktshaq = snow (generic)
  7. kanut = fresh snow without any ice
  8. kuhugaq = icicle
  9. manelaq = pack ice
  10. maneraq = smooth ice
  11. nahauliq = snow bunting
  12. nilak = freshwater ice
  13. peqalujaq = rather old ice
  14. pugtaq = drift ice
  15. qanik = falling snow
  16. quahak = fresh ice without any snow
  17. tsikut = large broken-up masses of ice blocks
  18. tugartaq = firm winter ice

In these references alone, we have potentially 34 words for SNOW and several for ICE.

A Yup'ik Man from Alaska

A Yup'ik in on Nunivak Island, Alaska.
A Yup'ik in on Nunivak Island, Alaska.

The Arctic Circle: Circumpolar-ness

Under periods of high concentration (being in the "zone"), an individual can see degrees of difference in a thing or a set of behaviors of a person that others cannot see. Take, for instance, the party game in which you have 20 containers of white powdered cooking ingredients and you must guess which each one is. Some people are lost and some can see the differences in grain sizes, shades of white, and textures immediately from experience, and some, after a few moments of concentration.

Think also about the caretaker caring for a loved one that is in a vegetative state: The caregiver concentrates and begins to notice a range of movements and sounds that others cannot detect (from the film of a true story Awakenings, staring Robin Williams; and from the Terry Schiavo case in Florida, 2005).

The same phenomenon can happen with snow. Living in an area that experiences various snowfalls for 6 or 9 months a year, residents begin to notice differences and to name them. Slang terms and mispronunciations produce new words, new dialects,and new languages as time passes. Writers make up additional words (we're allowed to do that).

Any language that is not a dead language is probably changing, even if that change is small and not noticeable to most people. We cannot write down every detail about a language, because we will never get it all. It's like stopping the blood pressure to get an accurate reading - the patient would die; it's a continuous variable. We need a constantly streaming update, if we were to record it all, along with dedicated future generations of researches to follow up.

Given all this, to tell others that there are are or are not a finite number of words for "snow" in Inuit and related languages, particularly when the researchers have not included all of the Indigenous Peoples relevant in Canada, is probably presumptuous.

We might find 100 words, after all.

Innuit Snows: Alaska, Canada and Greenland

show route and directions
A markerNunivak Island, Alaska -
Nunivak Island, Alaska, USA
get directions

B markerYukon, Canada -
Yukon Territory, Canada
get directions

C markerNunavut -
Nunavut, Canada
get directions

D markerGreenland -
get directions

Innuit Words for Snows: Alaska, Canada, Greenland

The Arctic and Subarctic Indigenous Peoples in

1) Alaska,

2) the Northern Provinces and Territories of Canada, and

3) Greenland

include at least the Inupiat (Alaska), Yupik/Yup'ik (Alaska and Siberia), Inuit (Section 35 of the Constitution Act of Canada - 1982; also found in Greenland) or Inuinnait, Tlingit/Telenget (Alaska and relations in Siberia), Aleut (<500 people), Alutiiq (few people), and Kalaallit (Greeland), as well as several other nations and bands or communities among speakers of Eskaleut languages in northern Canada. Related languages exist in Northern Europe, Siberia, etc.

Once we discard the word Eskimo (arguably either an Ojibway or Cree word, and those two nations merged), we find that the Inuit Nation has lived and continues to live around the top of the globe in the Arctic and Subarctic regions. We have nk knowledge to date of just how many separate words for snow exist among these Indigenous Peoples and their relations.

The problems with the word Eskimo is that it

  1. Comes from an outside North American Nation somewhere in the Lower 48,
  2. Means "the people who make netted shoes" to some, and
  3. Sounds like "the eaters of raw meat" to some other tribes, possibly suggesting cannibalism.

Enough people dislike any of the three meanings to justify elimination of the word.

Moreover, the malady afflicting only "Eskimos", one in which they ran out into the winter wilderness naked and died, was eliminated from the APA's psychiatric DSM approved conditions after the 1980s. Somehow the condition still exists, along with snow blindness (for anyone), but Eskimos do not exist. Inuit peoples, of which nation Todd Palin (Yup'ik) is one, do exist.

It logically seems that words for snow would change somewhat along the way around the globe, as other words and legends have done; e.g. the legendary reindeer pulling up the daily sun in Northern Europe transforms to the dragon in Asia. I think we have yet to find all the Inuit-related words for snow.


  • Don't believe that there are not 100 Inuit-related words for snow,
  • Don't believe that there ARE 100 such words, yet.
  • We DO know that there are at least 44 different words for SNOW and ICE in Inuit dialects, to date. Further research expeditions are needed.

© 2010 Patty Inglish


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      Great! I'll be looking up those books by Sue Harrison. Thanks for posting and sharing, cclitgirl!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 3 years ago from Western NC

      Loved this. And I linked up with a soon-to-be-published hub. As I was reading, your hub made me think of Sue Harrison's books. She wrote a series of historical fiction novels, set at 5,000 B.C. (if I recall correctly) and presents a lot of research of this region. If you're into that, they're GREAT books. :) Voted up and shared.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      How many names have you called YOUR latest snow storm?

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      Yeah, An Inconsiderate Truth came to mind. I thought it was pretty funny. I'm still for not wasting resources, but I thought the book looked like a child's picture book. Thanks, Support Med!

      And thanks for the new comments, everyone!

    • Support Med. profile image

      Support Med. 6 years ago from Michigan

      Well, I guess your title 'An Inconsiderate Truth' works best. As no one should convenience themselves with lies which they project to others as truth. Grand info! Voted and rated.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Very interesting hub. I think most of us when we are rushed don't check all the facts. Interesting reference to the language of the amazing people.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you,Patty, for teaching me so much about these interesting people.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      Thanks RedElf; I had not expected the comparison, but my favorite Estes quote: "If you have never been called a defiant, incorrigible, impossible woman, have faith… there is yet time."

      And don't make ice cream of yellow snow :)

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Patty, when you hit your stride, as you do here (and everywhere else ;) )you put me in mind of the great American storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes. This whole "snow" question is an interesting piece of internet foolishness - though I seem to remember a warning from my Inuit classmates about "yellow snow" :D

    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander 6 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      This is a well written hub. Voted up, and look forward to more of your work.


    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Great hub and so very interesting. You never know what topic you'll be learning about next here on HP and that's what makes it the great community that it has become.

      Thank you so much for sharing this hub Patty and take care.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      Thank you, Gal! I love the storytelling, because years ago I heard a pastor who is Algonquin tell stories in native dress and face paint of a story teller. It was wonderful and people of all ages sat around him and did not want him to stop - I think you are right about the bond you describe.

      He and his son have a living history installation in western Ohio now. It's wonderful.

      Thanks for the kind words and rating!

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Patty, I believe we are all plagued with these annoyingemails - as for me I may give them a glance then delete them. So many of they are as you say, sent for attention or mistaken ignorance.

      I find the Inuit fascinating, I like K9, have heard that the history and language is passed down from generation to generation by storytelling. What a shame we couldn't have more of it in our own families. The bond it would create would be so much better for the children of today than what many of them have. Wonderful hub - I found it fascinating reading from the first sentence to the last word. Voted up and awesome.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      Yes, why do people not check, charkamman -- and sometimes these emails contain computer viruses and worms that work silently as people spread the spam across the Internet.

      If schoolchildren and high school students are being asked to name 60 words for snow, then I am horrified. It takes me back to all the scientific misinformation I was served in Grades 1 - 5, like 'Blue Whales are small.'

    • charkamman profile image

      charkamman 6 years ago from portugal

      That was a fun read Patty! And I agree with you, the fake mails get up my nerves too. yesterday I got an email from a friend, about a littler of Golden Retrievers that would be put down in 2 weeks time, with photo's of a beuatiful litter - all bogus - the email adresses in the mail were all not working or fake. Why do people not check that out before they send it to their whole adress book?

      Anyway, this was a beuatiful Hub and I enjoyed the names for snow - especially the ones with the translations!


    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

      Thanks for the response Patty. I see your point on the enormity of the project. When considered from a more philosophical scope; can it be that possibly the words for snow are as vastly many as there are snow flakes themselves?

      Your point is well taken my friend...


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      Hi K9keystrokes - I've read a little about the father-to-son story and language passage, but don't know all about it really; but this seems to reinforce the opinion that we can't know all their words for snow without a pretty large project. The project for studying even Elephant language is pretty expensive, so for Inuits, it may be much more massive and expensive a task. Fun, though.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

      What an amazing people the Inuit are, so creative and resilient in their survival. Correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that much of the history and language they pass through the generations is simply by way of story telling from father to child and so on? Remarkable bonds are created under remarkable constraints. Wonderful hub Patty, as always, Up and Awesome.