Coming to terms with the history of snow

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Stuck inside during our recent snow day, I reflected on our relationship with snow. When we're kids, snow is a blessing. It creates a winter landscape perfect for snow forts, snowmen and snowball fights. Snow also has the power to give kids a day off from school. But as soon as we get our driver's license, snow becomes a curse. Drivers get stuck in snow, or go slipping and sliding on the roadway. They fume behind the wheel when they're in snow-clogged traffic. 

Some adults embrace winter with brisk walks or winter sports. Generally, though, adults grow to hate snow the older they get. I was surprised how much snow can dominate our thoughts. It's even drifted into our language, as evidenced by the many snow-related terms in the dictionary.

Snow has been around since the Ice Age but wasn't separated into individual flakes until 1734. That's when scientists determined that no two flakes were alike and the word "snowflake" was coined. There must have been many snowflakes in those days because in 1748, people began to go "snow blind." By 1779, these flakes were piling up into "snowbanks." 

Snowbanks resulted from "snowstorms," which started falling in the dictionary in 1771. But it's not like people hadn't seen snow before. They had started wearing "snowshoes" back in 1666. Those who weren't wearing snowshoes ran the risk of becoming "snowbound," which became part of the language in 1814. How they got trapped seven years before the word "snowfall" was coined, I'll never know.

I also don't know why they didn't clear the way with "snowplows," which had been lying around since 1792. Even with all of this white stuff covering the ground, no one thought to build a "snowman" until 1827. They didn't even throw the first official "snowball" until 1854. 

These snow enthusiasts lived in the Snow Belt and ate snow berries. They were deathly afraid of snow leopards, so they put up snow fences around their snowfields in 1872. By 1880, people were simply snowed under. Then they began to fight back. 

Their first big breakthrough was the snowmobile. According to the dictionary, these were invented in 1923 but not driven until 1967. Regular cars also received an upgrade when the snow tire came into existence in 1943. But children were way ahead of adults in snow technology. They invented the snowsuit back in 1937. 

When World War II ended, Americans perfected the snow job. This is an advertising term for "an intensive effort at persuasion or deception." Snow seemed to be on its last legs by this time. It finally met its maker in 1950, with the emergence of the snow blower. This machine was so effective at removing snow, the white stuff began to disappear. If it wasn't for the invention of the snowmaker in 1954, snow might have become extinct. 

So even though snow is an all-white substance, it's really had a colorful history. The dictionary doesn't say when the term snow removal came into existence. All I can say is that Public Works did a bang-up job with the bobcats during our recent blizzard.

And that's no snow job. 

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

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