Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

If you look at UK media at all, you will have noticed that at the start of the week substantial parts of the country were blanketed in white stuff. Quite a lot of it in some cases: we had about a foot here. Although snow is not unknown in winter even in the southern UK, it comes irregularly and always seems to take us by surprise. Public transport seizes up; local authorities declare snow days, to the joy of students and no doubt many teachers; and the news media are full of pictures of snowy scenes and dire warnings about more snow to come. One news outlet even christened Monday ‘black ice Monday’, which is not even a thing.

Snow has other meanings apart from pieces of ice falling from the sky. You can refer to snow that falls over a period of time as snows, and snow is also a slang term for cocaine. The mainly US term snow job refers to an attempt to deceive someone, while a snow pea, also American, is what Brits call a mangetout. There are far too many compounds formed with snow to list them all here, so let’s just take a moment to enjoy snowmaggedon aka snowpocalypse: journalistic blends for a snow storm so severe that it causes everything to grind to a halt.

Snow is a word of Germanic origin that has been in the language for a very long time, well over a thousand years in fact. And yet somehow it still seems to take us by surprise.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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