For over a century, the number of Eskimo words for snow has been a football in linguistics, kicked back and forward between scholars, and the latest consensus gives around 50 words. But according to a new project at the University of Glasgow, the Scots language goes a lot better, with 421 words for snow. (See the … well, word snow cloud above, from the project’s blog.)
Aiming to “categorise the vocabulary of Scots, from the earliest records to the present,” the Historical Thesaurus of Scots (HTS), is going live in Scotland, and is already throwing up some gems. “The project is currently in a pilot phase, focusing on selected categories that are rich in Scots vocabulary, such as sports & games, food, and weather,” but eventually it should widen to embrace the entire language.
There’s some dispute over whether Scots constitutes a separate language at all, as opposed to a distinct dialect of English, but there’s no questioning the uniqueness and distinctiveness of its vocabulary. Quoted in The Scotsman, Professor Roibeard O Maolalaigh, head of the university’s College of Arts, said: “This project will provide new insights into the riches and very essence of Scots as a language.”
And if you’re wondering just why the Scots, out of all Northern nations, are so sensitive to the white stuff: well, have you ever tried wearing a kilt in the snow?