LONDON – The Inuit of the Arctic know a lot about snow, and their wide vocabulary for the white stuff is legendary.
But they may face a challenge in snow-describing ability — from Scotland.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow have compiled 421 words relating to snow for a new Historical Thesaurus of Scots. They range from "snaw" — plain old snow — to "spitters," small drops of wind-driven snow, and "flindrikin," a slight snow shower.
The first sections of the thesaurus, covering weather and sports, are published online Wednesday.
As befits a country renowned for its gray, damp, drizzly climate, Scots also contains multiple words for rain and mist.
"It's a bit surprising that snow would give rain a run for its money," said Susan Rennie, lecturer in English and Scots Language at Glasgow. "That's a nice surprise."
Rennie said the wide range of weather-related terms shows how important it was for people in Scotland — for centuries a largely agricultural country — to distinguish "quite subtle gradations of weather."
The Scots language — which is sometimes considered a dialect of English — has been recognized as "an integral part of Scotland's distinctive culture and heritage" by Scotland's nationalist government. It is classed as one of Scotland's three main languages, alongside English and Gaelic.
The compilers of the thesaurus want readers to send in their own words to add to the list, and hope the book may encourage the return of some forgotten terms.
"Some words are ripe for revival," Rennie said.
What language would not be enriched by "snaw-ghaist" — an apparition seen in the snow — or "snaw-breaker"?
"It sounds like it's going to be a snow plow," Rennie said. "But in fact it's a word for a sheep that breaks a path through the snow for its fellow sheep to follow."