Snowclone of the day

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Sent in by A.C. from NZ:

My ISP's sign-on page has a 'daily picture', accompanied by some surprising(?) trivia. (Usually the surprise is how strained is the link to the picture and how badly they twist the language — often ending up misusing language in some way or other — this one is itself an example: is it really a fact *about* snow?)

Even a simple Google search offers an Inuktitut word for hello. (Admittedly also a large number of links alleging "no word for hello".)

Sparing you the screenshot, the "Daily Fact" is "Snow: Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow but none for hello."

And the "Related link" is a 1949 documentry on YouTube:

I don't have time this morning to listen to the whole thing, to see if the words for snow and hello are discussed. Perhaps someone will let us know in the comments.

A.C. also points out that the Daily Fact for May 2 poses some interesting issues in quantifier interpretation — "Camel: "Camels can kick in all four directions with all four of their legs."

The "Related link" in this case is a page about wild Bactrian camels, which unfortunately has nothing about kicking or even about legs.


  1. richardelguru said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 7:01 am

    Talking of snowclones See today's Monty

  2. Rube said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 7:36 am

    My recollection from my long ago Inuktitut classes is that Inuktitut now has words for hello, but they were not part of the traditional language. They were developed after contact with whites. In some areas the Inuit referred to whites as "the Big Hellos" due to their fondness for calling out this word. As I recall, the theory was in the small groups that Inuit traditionally lived in, greetings of this type were not all that necessary.

    [(myl) This seems plausible — after all, English didn't have a word for "hello" until 1820 or thereabouts, previously making do with other sorts of greetings like "Good day" or "Top of the morning". Other languages/cultures use phrases like "Peace" or "I am your servant" or just a an obvious factual comment like "Nice weather" or "You're up early".]

  3. Ray Girvan said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 9:04 am

    > "Camels can kick in all four directions with all four of their legs."

    I can't quite imagine what meaning's intended, but the image it raises is a Matrix-style bullet time shot that pans around the camel hovering in mid-air before it simultaneously kicks out four opponents.

  4. Yuval said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

    The intended meaning is pretty straightforward, methinks: each of the camel's legs can kick in each of the four dimensions. All in all, 16 available leg-direction kick scenarios.

    [(myl) I interpreted it differently: the animal can execute kicks with any azimuth, using each of its four legs to cover the corresponding quarter of the circle.

    This is in contrast to horses, which don't (as far as I know) kick to the side.]

  5. Yuval said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

    "Dimensions"? Srsly? [sigh]

  6. Lazar said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

    This is a nice coincidence, because just yesterday I posted an Inuktitut-related question on another site: if "Inuk/Inuit" are the words for "person/people", how do I indicate whether I'm referring to an ethnic Inuk or to a person in general? Someone suggested "qallunaaq", which apparently means either "non-Inuit" or "white person", but that wasn't quite what I had in mind. There was also a suggestion to use "inutuinnaq", which apparently means "a real Inuk" in contrast with the broader sense of "inuk". The closest English analogy I can think of is "an American" meaning a resident of the United States versus "an American" meaning a resident of the Americas, although the latter seems to be in almost total disuse since some point in the 19th century.

  7. Piyush said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

    Interesting fact: English has a word for "hello", but no word for "Salutations/Bow to you" (नमस्ते, namaste, the generic greeting in many Indian languages).

  8. Adam Funk said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 3:20 pm

    The Monty comic is good, but I'd have liked to see "oat soda" (from The Big Lebowski in the list. (Of course, pedantically speaking, very few beers have oats in them.)

    I remember "nemaste" from yoga classes.

  9. Jonathan Badger said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

    How exactly is "Hello" defined relative to other languages? Typically the phrase introduced as the equivalent in other languages literally means something like "Good day" or other set phrase, as Piyush alludes to.

  10. Rod Johnson said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

    Isn't the English word for "salutations" "salutations"?

  11. Ellen K. said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 9:51 pm

    Rod, if we are talking spoken greetings, no.

  12. Ray Girvan said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 11:41 pm

    @Yuval: "Dimensions"? Srsly?

    Hmm. I annoyed a camel today. Does that mean it now might kick me yesterday?

    [(myl) Exactly.]

  13. AntC said,

    May 5, 2014 @ 4:48 am

    In the spirit of community contribution, I watched all through the darn 1949 documentary to see if the words for snow and hello are discussed.

    Nope. Not a sausage on anything language-related. (Just as there was nothing related in the camels' 'Related link'.) This only adds to the feeling of surrealism about my ISP. (I should add that this daily picture/fact stuff only started after they were taken over by Vodafone.)

  14. You had me at hello said,

    May 5, 2014 @ 9:09 am

    I thought of LL when I read this in Patrick Radden Keefe's "The Hunt for El Chapo" in the New Yorker:

    Was Guzmán being tipped off by an insider? After a series of near-misses in which Chapo foiled his pursuers by sneaking out of buildings through back doors, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City took to joking, bitterly, that there is no word in Spanish for “surround.”

  15. Brett said,

    May 5, 2014 @ 10:34 am

    I'm guessing that the "related link" may be automatically generated from the keywords in the story. That is, it is not the origin of the "fact" being presented but merely presented for "further reading." If this is the case, the presentation is obviously quite misleading.

  16. Åsa said,

    May 5, 2014 @ 2:44 pm

    "This is in contrast to horses, which don't (as far as I know) kick to the side."

    Oh, horses can kick to the side (I have been the recipient of some kicks), at least with their hind legs. If you stand closer to a foreleg, they may choose to stamp on you or bite you instead, if they feel you deserve it.

    It is still possible of course that camels are more agile kickers.

  17. Bloix said,

    May 5, 2014 @ 3:13 pm

    As I understand it, "hello" was a hail, not a greeting, until the advent of the telephone. A quick ngram appears to confirm this.

  18. Levantine said,

    May 5, 2014 @ 3:52 pm

    Bloix, it's interesting that "hello" still retains its older function (e.g., "Hello, is anybody there?") alongside its newer, more prevalent one. The variant "holler" gives a good sense of the original uses of "hello".

  19. BZ said,

    May 5, 2014 @ 4:20 pm

    Presumably, a word for hello in a given language would be defined as a single word which is used as a greeting in roughly the same way, register, etc that "hello" would be used in English, regardless of what other meanings or etymologies the word might have. So, claiming that a word is disqualified only because it also means "peace" is disingenuous. On the other hand, if the same can only be expressed by using more than one word, one might say there is no word for it. Does that mean anything? Maybe not.

    What might be more interesting is if there is no way to express the concept at all.

    With that in mind, I think it's very different to say, as Rube does, that there was a time when the Inuit had no concept of greeting than to say that there was a time when we said "good day" in English.

  20. Chris C. said,

    May 5, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

    "Dimensions"? Srsly? [sigh]

    You were clearly contemplating some sort of 4-dimensional hypercamel.

  21. Dan Lufkin said,

    May 5, 2014 @ 9:28 pm

    In Qeqertarssuaq (NW Greenland) in 1950 there was a man called Ussaqutaq, which people said meant "Hello, little penis." Which is what his father said when he was born. I know that ussaq means "penis," so I guess that utaq functioned as "hello."

    Nowadays Greenlanders say Aluu, clearly a loan word. Of course, you can always say Qanorippit, "How are you?" Audio clips here.

  22. Adam Funk said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 3:52 am

    Aha, 4-dimensional kicking explains expressions like "kick someone into next week".

  23. Graeme said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 9:13 am

    Did we Earthlings get the term 'Greetings!' from aliens?

  24. Graeme said,

    May 6, 2014 @ 9:17 am

    Teasing aside, didn't Kurt Waldheim's gold-record, Voyager-despatched, message to aliens begin something like 'I bring you greetings from the people of Earth…' ? A very formal and wordy version of the performative 'Hello, from Earth…'

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