Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Névé

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is névé. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Broadly, névé refers to a field of coarse, granular snow, but when used narrowly it means “the partially compacted granular snow that forms the surface part of the upper end of a glacier.” 

// After years of compaction, the constant pressure eventually transforms névé into glacial ice.

NÉVÉ in Context

“Five climbers recently visited a remote area of Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island and climbed two new winter alpine lines on Mount Albert Edward. … The other new route was added to the peak by Kris Mutafov, Ryan Van Horne and Liam Gilchrist up the northwest face to the summit. They found solid névé broken up with a few short ice steps …” —, 22 Feb. 2022

Did You Know?

Unless you live on a glacier, you’re unlikely to look out your window and see névé. Névé is snow, yes, but it’s not just “cold white stuff.” Névé is young snow that is hard and granular, the result of partial melting, re-freezing, and compacting, and it forms the surface part of the upper end of a glacier. The word is often used synonymously with another cool (ahem) snow word, firn, although some reserve firn for referring to the stage between névé and glacial ice. The word névé comes from the Swiss dialect of French, and, beyond that, from the Latin word for snow, nix. Our language has used this Latin root to form a veritable mountain of (mostly obscure) words for snow-related things, such as niveous (“resembling snow”) and subnivean (“situated or occurring under the snow”). One nix word is, however, quite familiar: Nevada.

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