Imagine you’re watching a new Guillermo del Toro movie. It’s set in Scotland. It’s winter. A winsome, quirky young woman with hair twisted in a long braid the colour of the last sunset of the year is out in a highland snowstorm for reasons I really don’t have the space to explain here. The glow of her humble hut is almost invisible behind her. The wind races around her like hungry wolves, and hungry wolves race around her like the wind. The landscape ahead of her curves into a hill-crotch that perfectly matches the shape of the front of her ragged but quirky and endearing dress. She stumbles towards its shelter.
A furry shadow gradually increases in contrast, focus, and height in front of her. Out of the hill-crotch has emerged a nine-foot-tall hominid with fur white as the snow and shaggy as that carpet your parents had in 1972. Its eyes are wide and curious and they fix on our heroine. She takes a step back and falls on her nearly spherical buttocks. She gathers snow and tries to make a ball of it but it is so dry. She spits, makes a weak ball, throws it at the monster.
It lands short. The snow monster picks it up and tastes it. And then the big critter scoops up more snow, spits mightily in it, and hurls it – not at her but at the wolf that is just leaping at her from off camera. The snowball bursts with force against the wolf and the wolf runs away. The snowy giant turns and heads back into the crotch of the hill. For now.
You have just seen snawsmak.
Well, OK, you can’t actually seesnawsmak, but…
No, no, snawsmak isn’t the monster. It’s not the girl either. And it’s not the snowball or the force of it hitting the wolf.
Snawsmak is the taste of snow.
The big white shag carpet with legs tasted the snowball, remember?
Now, if you’re from a place where it never snows, you probably won’t know what snow tastes like. You may think it doesn’t have any taste. Water doesn’t, after all – well, not much. But if you grew up in a place where it snows lots on the regular, then you for sure know what snow tastes like and I don’t even need to tell you.
The thing about snow, for all you tropical folks, is that it has a bit of dust in it. Not so much that it’s gritty, but enough to make it taste… not dusty, but kinda… well, geez, I would just say it tastes like snow. It tastes hard and cold and just a little bit bitter.
I’m talking about nice fresh white snow here, of course. Don’t eat the grey stuff; that’s thawed and refrozen so it’s getting to be snirt. And everyone who grows up where it snows knows: Don’t eat yellow snow.
So why snawsmak? That’s pretty simple. Snaw is Scots for ‘snow’. I don’t mean Gaelic, I mean Scots – that other descendant of Middle English, evolved in parallel with English and looking a lot like it but not exactly. It’s a real language! It has its own Wikipedia and everything! Anyway, smak is Scots for ‘taste’. You may recognize its cognate in German schmecken and Geschmack, or in Yiddish schmeck (as in “That really schmecks!”). So snawsmak is just ‘snowtaste’ in Scots.
Not that it’s actually a word per se in Scots. I mean, it may be, but I just made it up. It’s a new old word.
I intend to keep using it. It’s not like we have a better one going around for this!