Don’t be a coward like me
Some time in the future, and it may be soon, you will be told by someone that the Eskimos have many or dozens or scores or hundreds of words for snow. You, gentle reader, must decide here and now whether you are going to let them get away with it, or whether you are going to be true to your position as an Expert On Language by calling them on it.
Don’t be a coward like me. Stand up and tell the speaker this: C. W. Schultz-Lorentzen’s Dictionary of the West Greenlandic Es- kimo Language (1927) gives just two possibly relevant roots: qanik, meaning ‘snow in the air’ or ‘snowflake’, and aput, meaning ‘snow on the ground’. Then add that you would be interested to know if the speaker can cite any more.
This will not make you the most popular person in the room. It wiIl have an effect roughly comparable to pouring fifty gallons of thick oatmeal into a harpsichord during a baroque recital. But it will strike a blow for truth, responsibility, and standards of evidence in linguistics.
Geoff Pullum The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax (pdf)
Je dois avouer que la dernière fois que j’ai entendu quelqu’un utiliser l’argument des esquimaux qui ont des dizaines de mots pour désigner la neige, je n’ai pas eu le courage de le corriger parce que ça aurait discrédité une argumentation autrement parfaite 🙂