Fifty Words for Snow

I read this magical exploration of language, culture and landscape in the lead up to Christmas, snuggled by the fire with fairy lights, and tinsel glinting in the light. However, it wasn’t until last week that I saw my first snow of this winter. It may not have been deep enough for ski’s and sledges but even a dusting of icing sugar has an element of the ethereal about it – silencing the world – even if only briefly.

Fifty Words for Snow by Nancy Campbell

Snow. Every language has its own words for the feather-like flakes that come from the sky. In Japanese we find Yuki-onna – a ‘snow woman’ who drifts through the frosted land. In Icelandic falls Hundslappadrifa – ‘big as a dog’s paw’. And in Maori we meet Huka-rere – ‘one of the children of rain and wind’.

From mountain tops and frozen seas to city parks and desert hills, writer and Arctic traveller Nancy Campbell digs deep into the meanings of fifty words for snow. Under her gaze, each of these linguistic snow crystals offers a whole world of myth and story.


Nancy’s prose was mesmerising, with compelling undercurrents of the ancient magic that is storytelling itself. Each word explored became a springboard for a microcosm of the life, people and landscape it came from. The link between language and humanity’s relationship with snow was beautifully and poetically presented. I especially loved the folktales and ‘campfire’ stories threaded throughout the more factual explorations. My favourite was the Cherokee tale about The Sparrow and The Pine Tree.

Fifty Words for Snow also included some harsh reminders about the state of Climate Change and it’s rapid, wide reaching, and devastating effects. I feel that it’s presence in the book was necessary and sensitively handled. You can’t explore a world of snow without acknowledging the threat it’s under and the impact that will have on language, people and cultures. Despite this, the tone was mostly one of hope. Hope in the perseverance and stamina of the natural world and the human spirit. Both forms of magic in their own right.

A fascinating, lyrical and seasonal read.

Meg Readz xx

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Thank you to them, Nancy Campbell and Elliott & Thompson Limited.

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