Oh snow!

Carolyn Thompson

I met my ex husband in Sweden in the course of my job, and about six weeks after I met him, he flew to South Africa to talk at a conference I was arranging.

He was teaching my students how to use Boolean Algebra to find information. He used his Swedish PowerPoint presentation translated into English. He proudly announced that they were going to use a wildcard search for different things relating to snow.

blank faces

wet snow, dry snow, powder snow, huggable snow, snow mixed with rain….

blank faces

dirty snow, slushy snow, ploughed snow, snow ploughs….

blank faces

snow chains, snow tyres, shovelling snow, snow shoe….

blank faces

the snowball effect..


You always hear that the Inuit have so many words for snow. And Swedes do too. But languages from countries that do not have snow usually just have one, if that. My guess is that very rural desert tribes probably don’t have a word for snow but I could be wrong.

I guess it is the same as when people from many countries say ‘give me a beer’ and people from the Beer Belt ask for draught, pilsener, lager etc. Or I talk about ‘mushrooms’ and Swedes talk about at least seven different types of mushrooms.

Swedish also has many idioms and expressions that use the words darkness, depression and tiredness. So for example you can be school tired, winter tired, autumn tired, spring tired, spring depressed, autumn depressed, winter depressed. I thought it was a joke at first, but it is true that when seasons cycle through extremes of light and darkness, it does affect your mood and energy levels.  Even the sudden switch from darkness back to light in spring makes people very tired and depressed. Where English talks about hidden numbers, grey areas, silence, in Sweden they use the term darkness.

I actually heard a new snow word the other day. What happened two days ago in Stockholm was called a ‘snow cannon’. It is actually called lake-effect snow (a rapid deposit of snow caused when a cold air mass moves across an expanse of warmer lake water) but I like snow cannon better! See top photo for what a snow cannon storm looks like. And below for what my walk to work looked like two days ago!


Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

Leave a Reply