I’ll assume readers know that the “Eskimos have X words for snow” idea is essentially a myth and a hackneyed journalistic trope. So I won’t elaborate on it here, except to note that the claim is so notorious in linguistic circles that it gave rise to snowclone, a handy term for this kind of clichéd phrasal template.
It turns out, though, that there are quite a few words for snow (and, OK, ice) in Scotland.* Ian Preston sent me a recent photo he took of an art installation in the lobby of the Cairngorm Funicular Railway, republished here with his permission:
[click to enlarge]
The piece is by Scottish artist Arthur Watson and colleagues and is part of the public art project Cairngorm – Reading a Landscape. At its centre is a woodcut of Coire an t-Sneachda (corrie of the snow), a glacial landform in the Cairngorms mountain range.
The 31 words and phrases that surround the image come from a glossary of “conditions of snow and ice in Scots, Gaelic, and travellers’ cant”, according to the Scottish Arts Council; artist Janet McKenzie says Watson is “particularly interested in the oral traditions of the fisher and traveller communities”.
Each term spoken aloud is a delight in itself, and taken together they constitute a poetic set:
Irish speakers will recognise sneachda as cognate with Irish sneachta “snow”, while liathreodhadh matches Irish liathróid(í) “ball(s)”, though I don’t know what this signifies in the context of Scottish snow – hailstones, or snowballs? Clach-mheallain means hailstones anyway.
Other terms appear in the online Dictionary of the Scots Language, for example feuchter “a slight fall of snow”, owerblaw “to cover over or be covered with snow”, skiff “to rain or snow very slightly”, and yird drift “snow blown from the surface of the ground, drifting snow”.
McBain’s Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language says eigh is ice, “hence eighre, oighre, Irish oidhir, Early Irish aigred, Welsh eiry, snow”. It refers to deigh “ice” (cf. Icelandic jökull), and says its initial d is prothetic – the sound was added to the start of the original word.
Your ideas are welcome, be they etymological, emotional, or otherwise.
* This is probably true of any language in any area where snow falls, so long as you cast the lexical net wide enough both dialectically and meteorologically.