Cover Image: Fifty Words for Snow

Fifty Words for Snow

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Member Reviews

This is one of those books that sparks other reading. Filled with fascinating histories and explanations, of glitter, powder, crystals and flakes – snow and the lore surrounding it in so many cultures, this is the perfect read for all snow lovers. From the animals who live in snow, the people and nature, this book will transport you to the highest mountains and the coldest glaciers.

I highly recommend this powerful journey into a white world. Not necessarily a cover to cover read, I’m ordering my hardback copy to dive into when I need some snowy magic ❄️
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It is said no two snowflakes are alike, that they are all different, and so too are the words humans use to describe them. Campbell travels the world and learns the mythology, folklore and stories of snow from people in all corners of the globe. Having spent my entire life in Maine where we get plenty of snow, I found a new appreciation of the season and frozen precipitation I often dread
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Compiled by author Nancy Campbell, the title of this beautiful book plays on the (now-disproven) myth about the multiple ‘Eskimo’ words for snow, and sets out to dig deep into the drift of knowledge that can be extrapolated from different languages’ terms for the cold white soft rain that falls from the sky in the winter months. As anyone who’s spent an early morning in central Cambridge after a snowfall will know, and as Campbell writes in her introduction: “snow makes a familiar place strange… it can seem to rewrite reality, concealing, clothing, cleansing or suspending the landscape. It muffles. It shrouds.”

Finished under lockdown, Campbell voyaged around the world through dictionaries and extensive research: not an unfamiliar activity for someone who had previously researched glacial ice, travelling north of the Arctic Circle to do so – this wonderful work is a fantastic exploration of language but also a record of what we might be soon to miss, if climates continue to change and snowfalls become even less frequent.

Loss is a haunting theme for the book: the foreword reveals that as the author began to compile this list of words, her partner Anna suffered a major stroke. Campbell worked on the book through a long and difficult winter at Anna’s bedside while she recovered from severe aphasia, with her words returning in fragmented and “often puzzling” form – leaving the author to wonder even more about the complexities presented by vanishing vocabularies, and the sheer power of a single word.

The fifty sections of this project contain linguistic analysis, geographic records, folk stories, economic history, references to art, film, music – it’s so much more than simply a wonderful gift for a weather-lover, or anyone curious about the origins of language. An ideal wintery bedside companion that’s packed tight with information: Campbell should be applauded for the extraordinary amount of research that’s been distilled into each of the book’s sparkling, fascinating chapters.
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A mesmerizing exploration of language, culture, myths, climate change, cinematic effects, you name it, through snow. Or better said through names for snow from various countries.

I loved the premise of this book and the content was just as fascinating! The start was a bit hit and miss, but as I've progressed through it, I've almost loved each and everyone of the vignettes. I'd say this is a sort of educational take on a coffee table book. Is a book you'll want to turn to over and over again, read one-two vignettes and than go about your day. No matter how many time you'll read this short essays, you'll still find them fascinating upon every new read! A delightful gift that will keep on giving!
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My thanks to Elliot & Thompson for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘Fifty Words for Snow’ by Nancy Campbell in exchange for an honest review.

“Every language has its own words for the feather-like flakes that come from the sky.”

Arctic traveller, writer, and poet Nancy Campbell has compiled this fascinating book that explores the meanings of fifty words for snow. 

Each short chapter is prefaced by an image of a snowflake and features the etymology of the featured word, followed by snippets of information that includes natural history, literature, religion, travel, history, myth, legend and story. Of course, the effects of climate change are also considered. Following the introduction and fifty chapters Campbell provides references, allowing for follow up reading if desired.

This book was intriguing as I wasn’t aware of the varied cultural significance of snow throughout the world. For example, the Icelandic word, ‘hundslappadrífa’, which means 'snowflakes big as a dog's paw' felt like something I might find in a fairy tale. I sought out the ambient song of the same name by Jónsi & Alex Somers that Campbell mentions. 

Campbell’s writing style is poetic and I found myself transported by their beauty.

Overall, I found it enjoyable and informative, the kind of book that is perfect to dip into. Its beautiful hardback edition would make an excellent gift, especially for armchair travellers, who like myself enjoy experiencing snow while curled up in the warm with a hot drink.
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‘Fifty Words of Snow’ is a book about fifty words of snow!  The book includes snow-related words in many different languages and goes into everything related to snow and all the different terminology.

I had no idea there was so many different terminologies until I cracked this open.

I learnt all about the history of snow and how snow is translated in different counties.  The author goes into all the music, films and authors that make use of snow e.g. Hans Christian Anderson use of snow in ‘The Snow Queen’.

I also learnt all about snow leopards, igloos and how they are made and I discovered all about different types of snow such as snowballs and their origination. 

It was interesting to read how all snow-related words translate in different languages and learning all about the birth/history of snow angels, etc.

If you’re a fan of snow, winter or Christmas, this is the perfect read for you.
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I wasn't sure what to expect from this book but soon became swept up in the way Nancy Cambell  manages to connect disparate etymology, history and folklore into an absorbing and harmonious whole. Each chapter is a surprise and an education and I found myself eager to pass on to others what had been revealed. I read it in one sitting but it is also perfect to dip in and out of, Certainly a book to be revisited often. Highly recommended. And would make a lovely Christmas gift!
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Nancy Campbell's Fifty Words for Snow takes a global survey of the words that different languages and cultures have to describe different snow phenomena. From the Icelandic hundslappadrifa (snow like big dog's feet) to the Finnish word for frozen tree frost, Campbell explores the different words and their connections to cultures, myths and folk tales.

It's a really interesting premise for a book but unfortunately I did struggle to maintain my interest. The separate chapters are all disconnected from each other so I felt there was little incentive to read on. I most enjoyed the chapters that dealt in folk tales (the Japanese ice maiden, for example) but other chapters were rather mundane (avalanches, for example). I think what this volume really needed is some thread of narrative that links the chapters together - perhaps a more autobiographical element. This does appear occasionally but rather nervously, as if the author is unsure how much of herself to include and I think she misses a trick there. Overall a nice idea but a volume that I struggled to enjoy.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Elliot & Thompson for approving me to read 𝗙𝗜𝗙𝗧𝗬 𝗪𝗢𝗥𝗗𝗦 𝗙𝗢𝗥 𝗦𝗡𝗢𝗪 by Nancy Campbell
𝗔𝗿𝗲 𝗮𝗹𝗹 𝗵𝘂𝗺𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗼𝘂𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗲𝗹𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝘀𝗼 𝗶𝗹𝗹-𝗳𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗱? 𝗜𝘀 𝗶𝘁 𝗽𝗼𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗯𝗹𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝗸𝗲𝗲𝗽 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗺𝗼𝘀𝘁 𝗽𝗿𝗼𝗳𝗼𝘂𝗻𝗱 𝗱𝗲𝗮𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗴𝘀 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗻𝗮𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗲 𝗮 𝘀𝗲𝗰𝗿𝗲𝘁? 𝗪𝗶𝗹𝗹 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗻𝗼𝘄𝘀 𝘀𝘁𝗮𝘆 𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗿, 𝗼𝗿 𝘄𝗶𝗹𝗹 𝘄𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿 𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗻 𝘁𝗼 𝘀𝗽𝗿𝗶𝗻𝗴?
This was a lovely book to read.
It explores the etymology of snow, and how snow is reflected in different languages, and how this has changed over time as languages have evolved.
𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝘄𝗼𝗿𝗱 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘀𝗻𝗼𝘄 𝗶𝗻 𝗞𝗼𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗻, 𝗻𝘂𝗻, 𝗶𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗮𝗺𝗲 𝘄𝗼𝗿𝗱 𝗮𝘀 𝗶𝘀 𝘂𝘀𝗲𝗱 𝗳𝗼𝗿 ‘𝗲𝘆𝗲’. 𝗔𝗻𝗱 𝘀𝗼 𝗶𝗳 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗲𝘅𝗽𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗳𝗶𝗿𝘀𝘁 𝘀𝗻𝗼𝘄𝗳𝗮𝗹𝗹 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘆𝗲𝗮𝗿 – 𝗰𝗵𝗲𝗼𝘁𝗻𝘂𝗻 – 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝘀𝗼𝗺𝗲𝗼𝗻𝗲 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝗲𝘆𝗲𝘀 𝗳𝗼𝗿, 𝗶𝘁 𝗶𝘀 𝘀𝗮𝗶𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘁𝗿𝘂𝗲 𝗹𝗼𝘃𝗲 𝘄𝗶𝗹𝗹 𝗱𝗿𝗶𝗳𝘁 𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗼 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗮𝗿𝗺𝘀.
I liked the history within the stories, both from an 'explorer' point of view (e.g. Ernest Shackleton and Leif Eriksson), but also the mythology, folklore, and fairytales told by different cultures around the world in relation to snow.
𝗔𝗻𝗱 𝘀𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗽𝗮𝗿𝗿𝗼𝘄 𝘀𝘁𝗮𝘆𝗲𝗱 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗣𝗶𝗻𝗲 𝗮𝗹𝗹 𝘁𝗵𝗿𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘄𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿. 𝗛𝗲 𝘀𝗻𝘂𝗴𝗴𝗹𝗲𝗱 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗰𝗿𝗲𝘃𝗶𝗰𝗲𝘀 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗰𝗮𝗹𝘆 𝗯𝗮𝗿𝗸, 𝘄𝗵𝗶𝗹𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘄𝗶𝗻𝗱 𝗯𝗹𝗲𝘄 𝗮𝗿𝗼𝘂𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘁𝗿𝗲𝗲 𝘁𝗼𝗽𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘀𝗻𝗼𝘄 𝗴𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲𝗱 𝗮𝗹𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗯𝗿𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗵𝗲𝘀. 𝗗𝘂𝗿𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗹𝗼𝗻𝗴, 𝗱𝗮𝗿𝗸 𝗻𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁𝘀, 𝗵𝗲 𝘁𝘂𝗰𝗸𝗲𝗱 𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗯𝗲𝗮𝗸 𝘂𝗻𝗱𝗲𝗿 𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗯𝗿𝗼𝗸𝗲𝗻 𝘄𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘀𝗹𝗲𝗽𝘁.
It was interesting to read about music that has been inspired by snow (which I did go and look up after reading this!) and to understand how 'fake' snow is made - both physically and auditorily.
I'd also never considered it before, but I found it interesting reading about the different kinds of avalanches, and the research that goes into preventing these from occurring.
𝗪𝗵𝗲𝗻 𝘀𝗻𝗼𝘄 𝗳𝗮𝗹𝗹𝘀, 𝘄𝗲 𝗲𝘅𝗽𝗲𝗰𝘁 𝗶𝘁 𝘁𝗼 𝘀𝘁𝗮𝘆 𝘄𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝗶𝘁 𝗹𝗶𝗲𝘀 – 𝗶𝗳 𝗶𝘁 𝗹𝗶𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝘁 𝗮𝗹𝗹. 𝗕𝘂𝘁 𝗵𝗶𝗴𝗵 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗺𝗼𝘂𝗻𝘁𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘀 , 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘆 𝘀𝗻𝗼𝘄 𝗰𝗿𝘆𝘀𝘁𝗮𝗹 𝗶𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘁𝗹𝗲𝘀𝘀 – 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗱𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗲𝗿𝗼𝘂𝘀.
Overall this was an interesting and very pretty book, perfect as a holiday read over the Winter season.
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‘’Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further afterwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.’’
                                    James Joyce - Dubliners

Even the people in countries where snow is daily reality get excited when they witness the first snowflake floating in the air. Now yours truly lives in Athens and every snowfall, however brief, is like second Christmas. Snow is one more of Mother Nature’s gifts to us, a vision of superb beauty, a symbol for purity, innocence. A holy silence in the silent season that calls for contemplation and introspection before the rebirth of spring. Our actions, however, destroy us. The constant violation we inflict on Nature has made snow a scarcity. This is what we are only capable of. Disaster and ignorance.

Nancy Campbell’s writing is tender, poetic and vivid. She guides us around the planet and introduces us to the lore and history of Snow, how it is viewed and revered, how it gave birth to tales and legends. The Sámi people stress the herders’ relationship with their environment. The Japanese fear the legend of Yuki-onna, the deadly snow-woman. In Korea, the first snowfall of the year may bring your true love into your arms. In Greenland, the glaciers are threatened by our own iniquities. In Scotland and Wales, the beauty of the snow reflects the beauty of the language.

In Thailand, snow is just a legend, a ghost that may or may not have existed. In Spain, snow is associated with the Holy Virgin, Her Purity and Protection over us. In Hebrew legends, snow reflects the changing of the seasons, God’s Providence. In Russia, the word sastrugi mirrors the sharp ridges of the snow, the horses galloping away in the tundra. In Latvia, the skylarks are associated with snow. Iceland and the Faroe Islands have a plethora of beautiful words about the serene gift. In the rich culture of the Cherokee, snow is bonded to God. 

In France, snow becomes a menace in the form of avalanches. Finland glorifies the frost that reigns on tree branches. Denmark is the birthplace of the beautiful and cruel Snow Queen. Anaxagoras truly saw black snow and in Italy, the neviere was used to cool drinks. In the Netherlands, you will taste the yummy Hagelslag, in Estonia, we will travel over icy roads. The last unconquered mountain top, the residence of the gods, is calling from the Himalayas. In Lithuania, sniegas has played a vital role in the course of the beautiful Baltic country. In Ireland, James Joyce created some of the most poetic descriptions of the Winter’s faithful, quiet companion.

This book is a dreamy journey in the eloquent silence of the falling snow and a moving cry to respect and protect Nature. Our Mother.

‘’He giveth snow like wool: he scattereth the hourfrost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold? He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow.’’
                   Psalms 147: 16-18

‘’Will there be any real snow at all when the year 2049 arrives?’’

Many thanks to Alison Menzies, Elliott & Thompson and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My reviews can also be found on
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This is a brilliant little book all about snow. Like the title suggests Campbell looks at fifty words from different languages for snow thus creating an extremely readable anthology on the cold stuff! This is a real mix of anthropology, sociology, geography, history, folklore and legend and of course etymology making a fascinating and engaging read. Future readers of this book should be warned however that they should be well prepared with warm layers, hot beverages and coziness while reading this as hypothermia by proxy may happen. A perfect read to dip in and out of over winter. I loved reading this.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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[included as part of an article on books to get you through winter]

It’s time to lean back into Not Doing Much At All. By which I mean a return to that romantic image of winter I painted at the beginning of this post, of blankets and books and not moving much.  For a bit of wintery non-fiction to take you around the world, there’s Arctic traveller Nancy Campbell’s 50 Words for Snow (Elliot & Thompson) – also due out in early November. Campbell takes us on a journey around the world, using different words for different types of snowfall or winter descriptions from different cultures as a jumping-off point to intertwine facts, history, travel stories, and myths and legends from each culture – how has snow affected economics and social history? More than you’ll realise. It’s a mesmerising journey, if read in one swoop. Or perhaps, if we have snow this year, you may, as I know I will, find yourself dipping in and out looking for the perfect term to apply to it.
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I loved Library of Ice and so I was really looking forward to reading Fifty Words for Snow.  It is what it says.  In 50 short chapters, a word or phrase for snow is mulled over.  We travel from Scotland to the Highlands of Papua, New Guinea, from Patagonia to Nunavut, learning new words for snow or snow-related words and phrases, their origins, meanings and uses.  The latter are often crucial for understanding and surviving in difficult living conditions, in places like Siberia or Nunavut, for example.

It’s an enjoyable read but I was really disappointed that it doesn’t have the depth of The Library of Ice, a similar journey but one taken to learn about ice rather than snow and with a personal element to it.  Fifty Words for Snow is more of a coffee table book.  For that reason, I feel quite dissatisfied with it.  Nancy Campbell is an excellent, thoughtful writer who can produce work that is so much more substantial than this.  3.5 stars.
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Thank you to NetGalley for letting me read this. 

What a lovely book this is. A series of short essays and explorations of snow, as seen in different cultures. Campbell has taken words from different languages and used them as a springboard to explore geography, society, myth. I think it's one I'm likely to give as a Christmas present.
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Fifty Words for Snow by Nancy Campbell

Campbell’s title cleverly uses the commonly quoted (but I think we’ve agreed unfounded) idea that the Inuit language has fifty words for snow as a catalyst for this book, which is made up of fifty vignettes based on words for snow in fifty different languages.

The book is very well written – Campbell is very articulate and her prose is effortlessly rich and sophisticated.  The book was a perfectly enjoyable read that included several very interesting reflections loosely based around the experience of snow and cold weather in different countries and how this is reflected in the language we use.

From the title and description I was expecting an exploration of how snow had featured in different mythologies around the world. There was a little bit of this, but not much. Honestly, I felt like this book wasn’t totally sure what it was. It seemed to be about 30% a climate change warning, but it very much wasn’t a theme that ran through the collection, or one that was backed up by any scientific discussion. It was also part memoir, part historical non-fiction, and part mythology. There were a couple of vignettes that felt a little bit tokenistic, and others that felt incredibly loosely related to the theme of snow.

I think the book should have focused on one or two of these aspects and gone further with them. The book was very interesting, but the individual chapters were quite short so historical accounts could not be explored fully, myths were delivered as abridged versions and discussion of climate change was touched on rather than explicated wholly. I think this is a compliment really because my main problem with this book is that there wasn’t even of it.

Having said that it was a very easy read that gave flashes of interesting titbits across a wide variety of disciplines, and while I wouldn’t say that it was an absolute must read, if a friend picked it up in a shop I’d say, oh yeah I’ve read that, it was pretty good!
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The title of this book attracted me as I have a great love of cold places and am never happier than when travelling above the Arctic Circle.  The first few chapters were fascinating.  I especially loved reading about Ilulissat in Greenland, when the word for melted snow is also the word for beer, and I have sampled the ales brewed at the Immiaq Brewery.  

However, I lost interest when, instead of considering words for snow, the writer digressed to snow leopards and avalanches which are words with a snow connection, but are definitely not words for snow.  I felt that Ms Campbell was short of material and had to bulk out her book with related but not directly relevant material.
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I was intrigued by the idea that there could be fifty ways to refer to snow so was eager to read this book. It describes a plethora of ways that snow is encountered around the world and the different terms that are used for it in numerous countries.The author gives the regional name snow is given in a particular place and then gives some history and description of it in the different guises it occurs.I was very enthusiastic with the accounts at first and found the descriptions well researched and eloquently described but.eventually my interest waned. I plodded through the last part of the book with very little interest or enthusiasm content in knowing that there were only 50 words in total to cover.Perhaps the book should not be read as a single read but dipped into on a few unconnected occasions because I found myself in a ‘ head-freeze’ situation after reading the first few chapters.
One thing that will remain with me however is the fact that snow is not found in all locations around the world and that it may not be too long before it is no longer seen in a larger part of the world than now.Global warming is definitely taking its toll on snow depth,density and occurrence on our planet.
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I was intrigued by this book and was delighted to be approved to read it.

It is perfectly titled: a narrative about snow and different cultures relationship with snow across the globe: even Mexico has a story relating to frost and the cold. This book is beautifully written and illustrated and would make a great gift for anyone who has an interest in seeing the natural world from so many different angles. 

This is a book to visit and revisit. Each chapter offers a new window on snow and the harsh conditions of winter. It is eloquent and interesting, from so many angles: geographical, historical, mythological and the individual languages of each culture.
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I loved this book! It was so interesting and engaging! For me, it is the perfect book to give at Christmas to anyone that appreciates good writing, fascinating insights into culture and the world, and just someone that has a curious mind. Fantastic book!
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This was a really poetic, insightful and awe inspiring book! The concept is so interesting and unique. I loved learning about small parts of small communities around the world. I learnt something new for each one, not just of its people and history, but of languages, and of culture.
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