Brussels,  March 2013 - Better late than never
Brussels, March 2013 – Better late than never

In Helsinki two thirds of Christmases are white. In Belgium there have been 11 white Christmases since 1900, most recently in 1986, 2009 and 2010. And judging by the weather forecasts this year will be a typical grey and dreary holiday in Belgium.

Well despite these bleak prospects, snow is on my mind these days. Some while ago we had a conversation in the office about the alleged number of words for snow in Inuit languages and this got me thinking about Finnish words for snow. I quickly went through a list of words I could think of but after 17 years abroad my active vocabulary is not that rich, so I did some research to find additional words familiar to me from my childhood.

For types of falling snow, I could think of 3 words in English (snow, sleet, hail), which is the same as in Finnish: lumisade (falling snow), räntä (sleet), rae (hail). To describe a the way snow is falling English has 2 flurry and blizzard, while in Finnish we have three: pyry (heavy snowfall), myräkkä (snowstorm) and tuisku (snowstorm with strong wind). This is in addition to words involving snow such as lumimyrsky (snowstorm) and lumikuuro (flurry) etc. For the soft snow of relatively warm weather we have two words: suojalumi and nuoska. Watery snow is called slush in English while in Finnish we have sohjo (slush) and loska (slush or snow mixed with mud and water). For snow lying on the ground I can only think of snowdrift in English, while in Finnish there are three words: hanki (a thick layer of snow on the ground), kinos (snowdrift) and nietos (a large hard pile of snow). In Finnish we also have a word for hard snow or frost on trees: tykky. This is a phenomenon most common in northern Finland.

In addition to these more common words there are plenty of others that are less familiar to me. Perhaps I have forgotten them, or they have simply been more or less abandoned, especially among city dwellers. Some examples are viti (recently fallen light snow), ajolumi (powdery snow driven by the wind), and polanne (hard layer of compacted snow). There are plenty more of these words, not to mention all the words in various dialects.

But when doing some research into English words for snow I found a large list on wikipedia. I am not sure how common these words are. I had never heard of words and expressions such as Champagne powder, corn, pillow drift and firn, but, then again, I am not a native speaker.

In the winter water is not only found in the shape of snow. There is also ice and frost, and Finnish has plenty of words for these as well. You can find many of them in this list of Finnish words for frozen water. There is also a blog (now discontinued) devoted to finding Finnish words for snow, Lumen sanakirja

And I will keep my fingers crossed that the weather forecasters are very mistaken about the conditions for the upcoming two weeks. Who knows, they have been wrong before!