How many different words for snow, death… and farts?

Eskimos and Inuit are reputed to have many/seven/50/100 different words for snow. Though it may be a tundric myth. (And anyway, don’t we have snow, blizzard, sleet & slush – OK that’s only four, and I’m not sure about the last two.)

But anywhere with an unusually high number of different words detailing aspects of a phenomenon interests me. It evokes poetic lists. Like these from Belfast poet Michael Longley – The Ice-Cream Man.

Rum and raisin, vanilla, butterscotch, walnut, peach:

You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before

They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road

And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.

I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren

I had seen in one day: thyme, valerian, loosestrife,

Meadowsweet, tway blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica,

Herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch,

Mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort,

Yarrow, lady’s bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.

You can listen to poet reciting his own lines here. It’s from his 1991 collection Gorse Fires.  I recommend it. (The poem sticks in my mind partly because the killing happened round the corner from where we lived.  The IRA shot dead the off-duty RUC man, John Larmour who was minding his brother George’s ice cream shop. It was part of the new modern wave of ice cream shop, with scoops of exotic flavours, notably honeycomb or  “honey bear” – a change from the smoother Italian-style from the likes of Fusco’s or Berticelli’s.)

Conversations with friends from various European countries have led me to believe that northern Europe has far more euphemisms for death than warmer places. Or perhaps it’s a Germanic language thing?

Kicked the Bucket. Snuffed it. Gone West (Ireland). Biting at the grass from underneath (German). There are many more, but I’m a bit too much on the run at the moment to give you more. Try here.

I’ve noticed that southern Europeans are less likely to cloak death in euphemisms. They  speak more plainly about it. I wonder if you agree?

However, it wasn’t snowfall or intimations of mortality that set my mind on this trail, but farting. Or rather, a letter from Emeritus Professor Raymond Levy to the Guardian newspaper on the subject of breaking wind.

The Malawi ban on farting has attracted great attention in the British press (Editorial, 9 February). One thing that is not clear is which type of farting is forbidden. Until recently, I thought that Arabic was the only language with two words for fart. “Zarta” for the loud one and “fassia” for the silent but deadly type. I am now informed that Turkish slang also has two words: “murad” and “yousef”, respectively. I wonder how widespread this linguistic richness is.

Sure English has other colloquial terms – parping, guffing, botty burps. (If only I had Viz to hand.) But are the Turkish and Arabic languages particularly blessed in having nouns to distinguish between the two main categories of rear raspberries? Or can anyone supply the equivalent distinctions in other languages?

While you’re making your mind up, here’s something that is just wrong, wrong, wrong.



Filed under art, language, poetry

15 responses to “How many different words for snow, death… and farts?

  1. blackwatertown

    On different computer, couldn’t load any pictures.
    Meanwhile, if I’m uncommunicative, it’s because I’m away… in the middle of the ocean… somewhere warm. I hope.
    Back soon.

    • “I am saiiiiiilllliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggggggg…..! I am sAAAIIIIIIlLLLLLiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggggggg…..!…” Hope you’re having a wonderful time and roasting happily in some lovely sunny realm 🙂

  2. A ban against passing wind? That’s like passing a law against sneezing.

    And the monkey? PETA would have a field day with this one.

  3. TaylorGooderham

    The eskimos and Inuit having over 100 words for snow? It’s an urban legend. Since there are many different languages spoken by native people up north, yeah, it’s kind of true. There’s a Wikipedia article on it.

  4. Enjoy your holiday and the heat! I have no other words to send those wishes.

  5. These examples are minimal. The US Congress and Senate have over 500 words for government and what it does. I have yet to find one that means anything. The monkey seems much more capable than the congress people.

  6. ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸ ♪♫•*¨*•.¸♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸…..the answer ,my friend, is blowin in the wind…….. ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸ ♪♫•*¨*•.¸♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸.

  7. Hah enjoy the holiday. I think I had botty burps covered in a FF a couple of weeks ago.

  8. Turkish has so many different words for the same word depending on the context etc it is required to be used in it makes the English language seem like an easy-peasy, not-at-all-confusing piece of cake! lol … caused myself a lot of embarrasment getting it very wrong in this otherwise very cool Turkish language! Botty burps btw?!! lol 😉 100 words for snow? Now that IS scary! One word is quite enough thank you!! 🙂

  9. Thanks all. It is warm, but not oppressive. ABout 50km off the coast of Morocco (of which more anon). Busier than usual with Italians and Spanish diverted from Egypt apparently.
    @Carl – good dig.
    @Tony – you have music on the brain, which is not a bad thing. How do you leave those musical messages?
    @Baino – and you can read her take on this weighty matter here…
    And while I´m at it, Ten Minute Missive also has views on the subject…

  10. Maxi – I’m at that loosey goosey time of life when I sneeze I do pass wind. I usually blame the dog.

    “Roo” and company, do go this blog for a snippet of O’Rourke

    I call our blog leader “Roo” because I have bad eyesight and that horse head looked like a kangaroo at first. It stuck. But as you can see – he hops around a lot so it’s a fit!

    Best of times away my good friend from SH. Oh, and remember there are still Barbary pirates. In fact Muammar has a Barbary cavalry. Of course. He lives in a tent. And in Jordan, Bedouin riding camels patrol with semi-automatic weapons. That’s border patrol. The times they’re not a changin’.

  11. World News

    This is definitely an excellent read. You are one of the finest bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

    • blackwatertown

      Whaddya mean that’s a spam comment? It’s clearly a thought-through genuine compliment.

      • Shame on you, Roo.

        New young German Blogger you may enjoy. He’s very serious but he popped into one of my “sermons” and brought me the true word. I love brain development at the time of university education. Good receptors like sponges and they have all of that history and whatever coming at them and it is all just whizzing through the neurons and some of the best things are synthesized into the mix. It is Good to hear from your dear irrepressible self and I am sure the goats miss jumping around to your tune.

  12. Ps I’m not a gamboling or a gambling soul! LOL

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