Every year as late winter begins the transition to early spring, Minnesotans enjoy a morning landscape punctuated by a unique ice formation. The ice I’m referring to exists as a function of the melting winter snow, when daytime temperatures rise well above freezing creating puddles on the sidewalks, and the partial refreeze as evening temperatures dip for a good portion of the evening. The result are early morning encounters with cold wet puddles capped by thin sheets of ice. When stepped on, the ice is easily crushed underfoot with a deeply satisfying crunchy sound.
Pedestrians go out of their way to be the first to experience these a crunchy puddles. Some creak like stiff cracked rubber. Others sound hollow like a punctured head of a drum. But I think the best ones sound like stepping into a bag of crispy potato chips followed by the delicate sounds of broken glass as the ice shards scatter.
Every year when I teach the section of Introduction to Anthropology which deals with linguistic anthropology, I describe to students how language connects to sociocultural worlds—how we create words for things that we value and how words provide grooves of meaning for interpreting and making sense of the world around us. At the same time I explain that it is an important characteristic of human languages that they are open to linguistic innovations. Basically, the conclusion is that languages have words for things that are important in some way to the users of that language and we can create new words for new things as they emerge into sociocultural relevance. Often to prove this point I’ll spontaneously make up some words to demonstrate that I can use them to communicate things.
For at least the last decade in every class, however, I point out that while pretty much everyone who has experienced at least one winter in Minnesota know about the deep satisfaction of stepping on that early morning crunchy ice, we have no word for it. How can it be that Minnesotans don’t have a word for something that gives us this much joy?
Some years back during class we settled on a word for it. A word combining the crunchy and the ice with a subtle onomatopoetic flourish…
Human languages are open to innovation and they are in dialogue with the valuable things that their users share, so why not…
Turn up the volume and enjoy!