Scots language found to have 421 words for snow

Snow in Leith, Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow

Snow in Leith, Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow

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THE inuits may have 50 words for snow, but for anyone who has endured recent winters it should come as no surprise that the Scots have even more.

Academics cataloguing a definitive thesaurus of the Scots tongue have identified no fewer than 421 terms used to describe wintry conditions.

From the most obvious words, such as “snaw”, through to unusual descriptions such as “spitters”, which means small drops or flakes of snow in a wind-driven rain, the growing archive confirms the country’s obsession with the weather.

The researchers at the University of Glasgow said that the array of different words demonstrated how important it was for previous generations to warn one another about potentially hazardous conditions.

The words will all feature in the new Scots thesaurus, the first part of which is being published online today. It is part of a pilot project to compile the first Historical Thesaurus of Scots, classifying every word in the Scots language from earliest records to the present day.

The first two categories featured on the thesaurus website concentrate on Scots words for weather. Other Scots words relating to snow include “feefle” (to swirl), “snaw-pouther” (fine driving snow) and “flindrikin” (a slight snow shower).

Dr Susan Rennie, lecturer in English and Scots language at Glasgow University, explained: “Weather has been a vital part of people’s lives in Scotland for centuries.

“The number and variety of words in the language show how important it was for our ancestors to communicate about the weather, which could so easily affect their livelihoods.”

The initial tranche of the thesaurus also focuses on sporting terms, and researchers discovered that one pastime trumped all others with 369 references - the game of marbles. Dr Rennie explained: “You might expect sports like football and golf to loom large in the thesaurus, but it turns out that there are actually more words relating to marbles – which is an indication of how popular the game has been with generations of Scottish children.”

As part of their research, the team said they would welcome the public’s help in documenting long-lost words that may have passed down their family.

Dr Rennie added: “There may be other words out there that we are not yet aware of, and that is where we would welcome the support of the public. If they use or remember words for particular sports or weather, we would love to hear about them.

“We also welcome photographs, which can be uploaded on our website. We already have some images online to illustrate Scots words for clouds, for example, but we would like more to make this a fully illustrated thesaurus.”

As well as snow and marbles, the new thesaurus covers sports such as golf and shinty, and the many Scots words for clouds and mist.

The team will be adding new categories over the next few months, including an entry sure to rustle up a wide range of descriptions - rain.

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.”

The thesaurus will go live today at www.scotsthesaurus.org

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