Monday, March 10, 2008

A Million Words for Snow, One Word for Ketchup

Forecast for Los Angeles and Vicinity
As of 6:00 am PDT on March 9, 2008
Today...Partly cloudy after morning low clouds and fog. Local visibilities one quarter mile or less in dense fog. Highs in the 70s to lower 80s. Through and below passes and canyons...northeast winds 15 to 25 mph in the morning.
Monday...Partly cloudy. Highs in the upper 60s to mid 70s at the beaches to the upper 70s inland.

Current Montreal Conditions:
Partly cloudy
Temperature -8°C
Wind Chill -8°C
Winds 9 km/h SW
Humidity 48%

Ah yes, the weather. Our brave correspondent travels by plane and train to a wondrous land of a foreign-ish language, where the ground is covered in ice almost 5 months out of the year. Yet he presses on, with no explanation for his friends as to why. He actually likes it.

He laughs at the ridiculous amounts of snow on the ground, at the cars buried under a white blanket of frozen everything. He leans forward into a stiff wind that pushes ice at you like shrapnel. He trudges (It's the only word that works) through an empty Vieux Montreal on a weekend afternoon, with tourists gone, and store after store shuttered and closed.

(Right now the LA audience is thinking, "WHAT an idiot," while the Montreal readers think, "What an IDIOT."

Yeah, its been eye-opening. Hey, you know that popular saying about how the Eskimos have a hundred words for snow? Well, stop spreading that ignorant rumor around, Crackerjack.

According to linguistics expert Sasha Aikhenvald, it ain't so. As she explains, "The story about Inuit (or Inuktitut, or Yup'ik, or more generally, Eskimo) words for snow is completely wrong. People say that speakers of these languages have 23, or 42, or 50, or 100 words for snow --- the numbers often seem to have been picked at random. The spread of the myth was tracked in a paper by Laura Martin (American Anthropologist 88 (1986), 418-423), and publicized more widely by a later humorous embroidering of the theme by G. K. Pullum (reprinted as chapter 19 of his 1991 book of essays The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax). But the Eskimoan language group uses an extraordinary system of multiple, recursively addable derivational suffixes for word formation called postbases. The list of snow-referring roots to stick them on isn't that long: qani- for a snowflake, api- for snow considered as stuff lying on the ground and covering things up, a root meaning "slush", a root meaning "blizzard", a root meaning "drift", and a few others -- very roughly the same number of roots as in English. Nonetheless, the number of distinct words you can derive from them is not 50, or 150, or 1500, or a million, but simply unbounded. Only stamina sets a limit."

But in Montreal, there is only one word for it, mon ami. It's "snow," and it's everywhere.

Montreal's ninth major snowstorm of the season dropped snow quietly and steadily all weekend, with another storm expected Wednesday. I watched bemused as the snow piled up all around everything, burying fences, parking meters, lots of small cars, and some household pets, I'm sure.

But then I went out in it. Sweet Baby Jesus a Go Go. Saturday afternoon, the wind ripped through Prince Arthur Square like a buzz saw, sending snow sideways across the field of vision. In the mile walk from my door to the supermarket, I watched two locals take a tumble, waited for a car to spin out of a parking space (he was still trying on my way back), and realized that this was an actual blizzard gathering strength here. (This is where Montrealers shake their head at my meteorological-ish naivete.)

But I did make some new discoveries here again:

• In Canada they sell microwave bacon. ("Cooks in five seconds!")

• They don't sell flavored coffee creamers.

• They do sell pink and green tortillas.

• There is ketchup-flavored salt for sale at Blockbuster Video.

• Apparently, there is no French-Canadian word for "Ketchup."

This just in: I might be playing the Sherbrooke Metro station tomorrow. Ssshh.


Philippe-A. said...

All this snow just make the May mini-skirts blossom that much sweeter.

And we do have flavored cofee creamer.

Eddie Rivera said...

Ah, a VERY good point. I have not found flavored coffee creamer in 3 Metro markets....the search goes on.

Eddie Rivera said...

Waitaminit. Miniskirts don't emerge until MAY?

Mira said...

might want to try IGA then..they seem to have amaretto, moka, french vanilla, irish cream as