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The question about Eskimos' surroundings [September 9] being always the same brought from dim memory something pertinent. Years ago I read in several places that Eskimos have 20 or more words for snow, slight variances that we wouldn't notice. Then I saw something that said that the story was a widely spread lie. Did you ever see either statement in your trivia searches?

-- Retired Librarian, a lounge chair on the patio

This old linguistic saw has been floating around for decades. You'll also hear there are 50 or 100, depending on how strong a point the speaker wants to make. The whole thing began with a casual observation by an anthropologist, and by the time we were through puffing it up and spreading it around, it was unrecognizable. (See Lucy, above.) Linguistics experts say the Inuit language has four root words for types of snow. These can be tweaked with any number of endings, but they still constitute only four separate concepts. So they still have us beat, but only by three. Or two if you count yellow snow.

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