Tag Archives: snow

snew

As the day grew bright on Saturday, I knew it was going to be wintry. The wind blew, and it snew abundantly.

What? 

The past tense of grow is grew. The past tense of know is knew. The past tense of blow is blew. Who can object to the past tense of snow being snew?

Sure, I admit, it might be a little uncomfortably like spew (which is not the past tense of spow). But it matches the pattern. Not only that, there was a time in English when snew truly was normal for the past tense of snow.

Mind you, that time was 500 years ago. And you know what they say: Où sont les neiges d’antan? (Where are the snows of yesteryear?) They all blew away or flew with the dew.

But also, while snew was common a half a millennium ago, it wasn’t the original past tense of the verb. No, that was snewed.

I’m not kidding! The original present-tense verb in English was snew. Yes, it’s derived from snow by ablaut, the same process that gave us those “strong” past tenses such as grew and knew. But that process could also be used to derive a verb from a noun. Not from the noun snow, though; the ablaut happened much farther back. Even in Proto-Germanic there was a distinction between the verb *snīwaną and the noun *snaiwaz.

But, you know, even though snowflakes are all at least slightly different, they all drift together into one big mass. And likewise, although English started out having the verb snew (with its regular past tense snewed) and noun snow, by the 1400s a conversion of the noun supplanted the verb, making it snow… in the present tense. Because of course snew looked like a past tense, and a past tense it became. Until even that melted away, and it all just became regular snow and snowed.

Ah ! comme la neige a neigé !
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.
Ah ! comme la neige a neigé !
Qu’est-ce que le spasme de vivre
À tout l’ennui que j’ai, que j’ai !…
—Émile Nelligan

Or did it? Where are the snows of yesteryear? Recycled as the snows of this year, that’s where. They melted, went back into the streams and lakes, and that went back into the clouds, and now here again is snow. And if you want to say snew, well, no one can object that it’s new.