It’s a commonly stated ‘fact’ that Eskimos have lots of different words for snow. Some accounts say nine; others 48; others still say 100! Language isn’t usually that easy to pin down though – ‘Eskimo’ actually covers lots of different groups of people and if we’re getting philosophical, what do we mean by ‘word’? It’s probably fair to say though, that people do have lots of words for the things that affect them the most…
218 for Rain
Weather inspires lots of new words. Some people have counted 218 words for rain, fog and mist in the Scots language! But the Hawaiians are also rain-obsessed – there are 139 words for rain, including some really specific ones like ‘nahua’ for the ‘fine rain that accompanies the north-east trade winds along the northern part of Maui’.
4 for Love
Greek offers four different words for love that range from ‘philia’ (φιλία), which means ‘friendship’ in modern Greek, to ‘agapē’ (αγάπη), which means ‘love’ in the sense of ‘I love you’. Some might say that’s a very sensible distinction to make!
46 for Camels
Animals are important too. There are about 46 Somali words for camels in various stages of the reproductive cycle, but then this pales into insignificance when you consider that there are around 500 breeds of dog referred to in the English language!
Lots for Drunkenness
And of course, the British have hundreds of slang terms for being drunk, including ‘sozzled’, ‘pickled’ and ‘wellied’, as well as lots of other bizarre words that were almost certainly dreamed up under the influence of alcohol themselves…
And that’s not all…
If we think about it, there are actually lots of examples in English for this – for many words it would be quite easy to come up with at least a handful of others that mean something very similar.
Take ‘angry’, for example; you could be miffed, frustrated, annoyed, furious or even incandescent. All these words express a slightly different degree of the same emotion, and this is just a selection. That’s the great thing about language – there’s a word for (almost) everything!
Can you think of any more examples from your language?