Too many words for falsehood?

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One of Matt Wuerker's 2017 political cartoons:

Wuerker is obviously taking graphical advantage of an elderly cliché, which pivots off of the allegedly large number of Eskimo snow words in order to decorate a claim that the culture of group X is (perhaps excessively) preoccupied with Y. For many examples of X and Y, and instances of other metaclichés, see this list of posts from Language Log Classic, or the contents of the Snowclone category in the current version. A similar conflation of concepts and (single) words, with similarly loose lexicographical standards, lies behind the "No Word for X" trope.

One interesting difference here is that the non-Eskimo side of the comparison includes a couple of two-word phrases — though one of them ("alternative fact") was used by a public figure last year, and widely enough mocked in the media to earn its own Wikipedia page. Given that, it's interesting that he left out "fake news".

Another feature of the cartoon is that Wuerker seems to have looked up some of the actual Inuit words for snow, though he appears to have mistranscribed "piegnartoq" as "plegnatoq" and "Qaniq" as "Qaniy". (Some better-informed readers may explain to us that these are actually inflected or derived forms from one or another of the Inupiaq varieties, but my bet is that they're scribal errors.)

Anyhow, this is the most honest snowclone I've seen in a while, since (1) it's a joke, and (2) it attempts to present just three examples on the "Eskimo" side.



  1. Ben Zimmer said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 10:21 am

    The cartoon strongly resembles an older one by Matt Bors, which we first posted in 2005. (Bors based his list of snow words on Phil James's satirical "The Eskimos' Hundred Words for Snow.")

  2. Robert said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 11:21 am

    "Yae yo" in the lower panel is appears to be a phonetic rendering of llello, a Latin American slang term for the substance in question.

  3. Homer said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 11:53 am

    It took me five tries to realize that "llelo" in the above comment wasn't "Ilelo." Damn these sans-serif fonts!

  4. John Laviolette said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 1:03 pm

    I also like that "to snow someone" is another way to say "to tell a falsehood".

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 1:32 pm

    Perhaps this is in large part due to the fact that I just wasn't moving in the right social circles in 2005 to be exposed to as many as possible of the lexemes in the bottom panel, but that list largely reminds me of nothing so much as the sort of teaching aids used in public-junior-high-school health class in the late '70's which featured such hilariously outdated (from a then-current adolescent perspective) slang terms for drugs as to completely undermine the hip-and-with-it affect the grownups were presumably trying to convey. And of course one wonders whether all of them were ever authentic v. the result of some "informant" (in both the police and linguistic-fieldwork senses) just pulling the leg of a researcher with a malfunctioning BS detector. "Oyster stew," for example, sounds very hoaxlike to my (perhaps unreliable ear), but googling reveals that it apparently at some point made onto a list of relevant lexemes compiled by the perhaps overcredulous DEA:

  6. Emily said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 10:49 pm

    Wouldn't be the first time someone snowed a journalist with fake subcultural argot:

  7. bratschegirl said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 12:38 pm

    I suspect he left out "fake news" because that designation tends to be applied to stories which are in fact true, just not welcomed by the current administration. Everything in the cartoon's second panel is a designation for something which is untrue, and therefore "fake news" doesn't belong.

  8. Andreas Johansson said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 1:19 am


    I don't think that holds. "Fake news" means something false, even if it gets applied to things that actually aren't.

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