25 September, 2015

421 words for snow

I read a very interesting article the other day about  the compilation of the first Historical Thesaurus of Scots. Academics putting together the tome have discovered that there are 421 Scottish words for snow, in all its multiplicity of forms. For example, 'blin-drift' means drifting snow, while 'flindrikin' means a slight snow shower. This puts the Inuit total of only 50 worlds for snow well and truly in the shade.

In addition to weather, the thesaurus will cover sport. It turns out that there are 369 different Scottish words associated with the playing of marbles, a game that has been extremely popular with Scottish children for generations.

Despite having lived in Scotland for a number of years, I am not familiar with any of the words connected with snow or marbles that were quoted in the article. I guess this is because I am not a native Scot and because neither snow nor marbles featured high on my agenda during my time living in the country.

But this got me thinking about how easy it would be to invent words that don't exist and, if enough people were prepared to take part in the mass deception, convince others (non-natives) that these words were legitimate and had been around forever. If you did that, I imagine that people might actually start using those made-up words and, voilĂ , they would enter the language for real.

And that is exactly how vocabulary does--or can--develop. Not the mass deception bit, of course, but someone starting to use a new word or an old word in a new way, others following suit and, before you know it, that word becoming ubiquitous.

An interesting article, as I said...

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