A snowflake by any other name, Size matters, Peanut shells--big business
Q: Do the Eskimo really have 400 words for snow?
A: No. The number of snow words Eskimos have varies with the Eskimo language but it's about the same as English. Here's 14 of ours:
avalanche, blizzard, blowing snow, dusting, flurry, hail, hardpack, powder, sleet, slushsnow, snow bank, snow cornice, snowflake,
[NOAA] The sun sets over ridges in Alaska's North Slope where Eskimos live and talk about snow
Linguists are careful what they mean by "word." What you and I think of as a word, they call a "lexeme."
It's a word you can find in the dictionary. It's different from just a plain old word because a lexeme gives
rise to other words. For example, you can find "speak" in the dictionary and "speak" gives rise to
"speaks", "spoke", and "spoken." However, they're all derivatives from "speak" and you only count the
main-meaning word, the lexeme--"speak."
No big deal, you think ,but Eskimo languages spawn a fearful number of derivative words (what linguists
call "distinct inflected forms") and herein lies the problem. A noun lexeme can have almost 300 distinct
inflected forms and a verb may have over 1,000. So, if you count all these forms, you can get an awful lot
of Eskimo words for snow but that's cheating. We have only one meaning word for speak, not four
(speak, speaks, spoke, spoken).
Here's a list of all dictionary words (14) for snow in the Eskimo language, Yup'ik (spoken by 13,000 people along the coast and rivers of
central Alaska). It comes from Steven A. Jacobson's (1984) Yup'ik Eskimo dictionary.
- snowflake: qanuk
- fine snow/rain particles: kanevvluk
- drifting particles: natquik
- clinging particles: nevluk
- fallen snow on the ground: qanikcaq
- soft, deep fallen snow on the ground: muruaneq
- crust on fallen snow: qetrar
- fresh fallen snow on the ground: nutaryuk
- fallen snow floating on water: qanisqineq
- snow bank: qengaruk
- snow block: utvak
- snow cornice navcaq
- blizzard, snowstorm: pirta
- severe blizzard: cellallir, pirrelvag.
U of Texas, Anthony Wood bury: Eskimo words for 'snow'
Iowa State U, Lee Honeycutt: Eskimos and "snow"
Q: Why are there no insects as big as, say, an elephant? --"Size matters", Trumansburg, New York
A: They wouldn't get enough oxygen to survive and their exoskeletons (skeletons that are outside an insect's body) would crush them.
Insects evolved a simple breathing apparatus that works fine for their size. Insect cells get their oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide by
simple gas diffusion across the cell membrane. However, gas diffusion is too slow a process to exchange the amounts of gas that a large
creature, like an elephant, needs. The poor monster bug would suffocate.
Why would the exoskeleton squash the monster? John Meyers, entomologist at North Carolina State University explains: Weight increases
proportional to volume. As weight increases the muscle mass must also increase to support the weight. Volume increases by power of 3
(cubic) but surface area increases by power of 2 (square). Since skeletal muscles are attached to the inner surface of the exoskeleton,
eventually the surface area is too small for muscle attachment, at least those large enough to handle the weight. His inadequate muscles
fail to support the exoskeleton. Consequently, the exoskeleton falls and crunches the big bug.
By the way, the biggest insect known is the 71-gram (2.5 oz, dry weight) giant weta (Deinacrida heteracantha) of New Zealand. More
impressive, though, are some big bulky beetles that make a six-inch rule look small. Click here to see.
WonderQuest: Bug Breath
North Carolina State University: Insect respiratory system
University of Florida, Chapter 30: Largest insect
Q: What happens to the shells after processing peanuts? --Jane, Deland, Florida
[Victor Sobolev, US Department of Agriculture] Even the shells get used
A: Peanut shells aren't dumped anymore like they were a few years ago, says Victor Sobolev, US
Department of Agriculture Chemist, National Peanut Research Laboratory. Instead they're recycled in
A third of the shells end up in mixed feeds for cattle. Another third make a base for litter and bedding.
Almost a third (30%) help absorb chemicals, such as within activated carbon to remove offensive tastes,
odors, colors, chlorine, and organics.
The remaining 3% go into all sorts of stuff: plastic, wallboard, abrasives, fuel, cellulose (used in rayon and
paper), mucilage (glue), mulching, kitty litter, linoleum, and a source of hydrogen for fuel cells.
On Sep. 2, 2002, researchers from Clark Atlanta University and Georgia Institute of Technology produced
hydrogen from peanut shells for use in fuel cells. (These cells convert chemical to electrical energy). By
the way, fuel cells (running on hydrogen) produce water and electricity for the space shuttle. George
Washington Carver devised a way of making paper from peanut shells in the 1920s.
(Answered Nov. 22, 2002)