Kwinn the Eskimo addendum

Let's play a quick trivia game: Eskimos have more than 30 words for what?

Do you think we've made some mistake by using the word "Eskimo" not only in that question, but throughout today's review of Kwinn? Because, being a rather enlightened person, you know that "eskimo" is a derogatory term meaning "eater of raw flesh" (suggesting they were cannibals), and that the proper name is Inuit, right?


"Inuit" specifically refers to speakers of the Inupik language (the singular form is "Inuk"). Most Canadian Eskimos do speak Inupik, so "Inuit" is correct for them. However, Jesse Kwinn is from Kotzebue, Alaska, and few Alaskan Eskimos speak Inupik - mostly in the north/east. Eskimos from the southern and western part of the state speak Yupik, and are thus properly known as Yuit, not Inuit (the Eskimos in eastern Siberia are also Yupik). "Eskimo" is the only umbrella term that applies to both the western Yuit and the eastern Inuit, and is therefore the proper term.

The claim that "Eskimo" comes from an Algonquin word meaning "eaters of raw flesh" is pretty well disbelieved by linguists today (although, to be fair, they do eat raw meat - that's where they get their Vitamin C, thus staving off scurvy in a land where there's clearly no access to citrus fruit). It more likely comes from a Montagnais word meaning "netter of showshoes" - also an accurate description. "Yuit" and "Inuit" both translate, logically enough, as "the People."

Oh, and if you said "snow" in answer to our trivia question, you're wrong again: there are only a handful of words for snow, with the rest being a result of the polysynthetic nature of Eskimo languages; you start with a root word, then add morphemes to create more specific variations. By that logic, "wet snow," "fresh snow," "heavy snow" and "powdery snow" are all different English words for snow. "Fresh wet snow" and "fresh powdery snow" would be two more. Plus, don't forget "avalanche," "drift," "sleet," "hail," "dusting," "frost" and many more wintery terms you're perfectly familiar with. At that rate, you can see how easy it would be to get up to the mythical "hundreds" of Eskimo words for snow that we've heard about in chain emails.

The actual answer to the question? Demonstrative pronouns. English has four (this/these and that/those), while Eskimo languages have eight times as many. For instance, hakan (that one high up there), qakun (that one in there) or uman (this one that we can't see [such as a smell or a sound]). Those are all Aleutian, and they describe in a single word something it takes an entire phrase in English to convey.

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