50 Words For Rain
Posted: 18 June 2012 06:49 PM   [ Ignore ]
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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18461189
Fifty words for rain

Rather a silly article from BBC News Magazine. (Couldn’t find a byline.) They even pestered poor Pullum for a response.

One point of interest: “Siling Down”. I’ve not heard this verb before.

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Posted: 19 June 2012 03:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I wasn’t terribly impressed by that article either, although I did appreciate the writer’s honesty in conveying some of Pullum’s irritation at the questions posed.

The writer mentions the Scots word dreich, but without apparently appreciating the meaning. A dreich day is one that’s dull damp and miserable. You can describe the weather as dreich even if no rain is falling at the moment, but it probably did earlier and surely will again. Not a nice day at all.

The only Scots rain terminology I personally use are at the two ends of the scale. Smir is a combination of mist and very fine rain that’s unpleasant to be out in and gets you very wet despite comparatively little actual precipitation. (When I lived in Plymouth, we called it mizzle.) Very heavy rain may be stoating. To stoat is to bounce (you can stoat a ball), so if the rain is stoating, the raindrops are bouncing off the pavement and if they don’t get you on the way down, they’ll have another go on the way up.

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Posted: 19 June 2012 03:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I have trouble believing that surfers have no terms to describe particular surf conditions.  Pipeline, e.g., is just one that I can think of.

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Posted: 19 June 2012 03:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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the raindrops are bouncing off the pavement and if they don’t get you on the way down, they’ll have another go on the way up.

Would that be re-siling?

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Posted: 19 June 2012 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Faldage - 19 June 2012 03:25 AM

I have trouble believing that surfers have no terms to describe particular surf conditions.  Pipeline, e.g., is just one that I can think of.

“Describe” is the operative term. Pipeline is a descriptive term, not a “different word” for surf. Surfers have infinite ways to describe surf conditions, but that doesn’t make them different words in the sense of fifty words for snow.

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Posted: 19 June 2012 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Rather a silly article from BBC News Magazine.

understatement of the week.

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Posted: 19 June 2012 09:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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happydog - 19 June 2012 05:52 AM

Faldage - 19 June 2012 03:25 AM
I have trouble believing that surfers have no terms to describe particular surf conditions.  Pipeline, e.g., is just one that I can think of.

“Describe” is the operative term. Pipeline is a descriptive term, not a “different word” for surf. Surfers have infinite ways to describe surf conditions, but that doesn’t make them different words in the sense of fifty words for snow.

I disagree.  Describing different surf conditions is exactly the same thing as the arguments put forth for different Inuit words for snow.  Whether it is borne out in reality or not, the arguments say that they have different words for, e.g., falling snow, crunchy snow on the ground, mushy snow on the ground, snow blowing fiercely, snow suitable for making igloos, etc.

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Posted: 19 June 2012 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I understand the concept. Pullum’s point is that it is a flawed concept that doesn’t match with reality. Surfers don’t have different words for different surf conditions; they deal with the need to talk about those conditions by using descriptions instead of different words, just like the Inuit deal with snow.

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Posted: 19 June 2012 03:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I understand the concept. Pullum’s point is that it is a flawed concept that doesn’t match with reality. Surfers don’t have different words for different surf conditions; they deal with the need to talk about those conditions by using descriptions instead of different words, just like the Inuit deal with snow.

or the English and rain, really…

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Posted: 20 June 2012 03:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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There is a slight difference. Inuit is an agglutinative language, joining morphemes into compounds to form new words; like German on steroids. So such Inuit descriptive terms are “words,” but when translated into English they are represented as noun phrases. But there are only a handful of Inuit roots that form the basis for these compounds, so in a way it’s not unlike the English “surf” or “rain.”

The point is that the appearance of a large number of words/descriptive terms for a concept is not a feature of any particular language, it simply means that you’ve stumbled into the specialty vocabulary used by any expert in that field.

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Posted: 20 June 2012 09:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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This thread (and, in particular, the reference to whether there are truly different slang terms for types of surfing conditions or just terms for descriptors that may be used to describe surfing conditions) reminds me of something I stumbled on when looking into the “Inuit words for snow” myth: Wikipedia’s article on the topic mentions, in passing, that the Sami people, unlike the Inuit, “really do” have hundreds of words for snow. 

Sami, unlike Inuit, is not, AFAIK, an agglutinative language.  With inuit, one could theoretically fashion a million or more words with “snow” as one of its units (if you had a lot of time and nothing better to do), but most of those formulations would be somewhat contrived and would be combinations that native speakers would be unlikely to use. However, the Sami have hundreds of words that are used by native speakers and that involve “snow” in some fashion.

But, strictly speaking, they do not have hundreds of words for “snow” - the cold, white stuff that falls from the sky - itself.  Rather, they have hundreds of words for different types of snowy-ground-conditions.  And, to pick up on Dave Wilton’s point, these words essentially are part of a specialized vocabulary (actually, multiple, specialized, vocabularies) for snow conditions based on how such conditions impact various activities.  So, for example, there is a rich set of terms to describe snowy ground based on how it would affect a reindeer driver’s ability to drive reindeer over snowy terrain.  One such word, moarri, roughly translates as “the type of brittle snow and ice that is likely to break and cut a horse or reindeer’s legs.”. There are also a set of terms for “snowy terrain” as it relates to one’s ability to ski upon it or walk upon it (with snow shoes), etc.  so, the specialized vocabulary for snow is very much like a doctor or lawyer’s specialized jargon: it allows people in a given field to quickly convey nuanced distinctions that are important to people in that field.

After a shallow investigation of surfing slang, there seems to be a somewhat similar phenomon: as Happydog noted (and I apologize if, in paraphrasing, I am misstating his point) there are specialized terms to describe various elements that would impact surfing conditions (tides, wind patterns, etc.), but there don’t seem to be surfing slang terms that describe, in a comprehensive fashion, A set of “surfing conditions”.  And “pipeline”, as far as I can tell, is a slang reference to a fairly specific geographic location that is known for having powerful waves (to put it mildly) but not to be a general slang term for a “type” of surfing condition (although, if pipeline is frequently used in a figurative fashion to refer to a set of surfing conditions, I’m not sure that a distinction between whether it is a word for a type of surfing condition, or whether it is merely a descriptor that may be applied to surfing conditions, could really be maintained.)

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Posted: 20 June 2012 11:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I always liked “spitting” as though the weather has it in for you cf. “We’re going to pay for this” said after a spell of good weather.

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