Quinzhee.

My wife informed me today that what we’d been calling an igloo, the snow fort the grandkids made in the yard when the weather permitted, was actually a quinzhee. I’d never heard of such a thing, but sure enough, it has a Wikipedia article and an OED entry (Third Edition, December 2007):

Etymology: < Slave kǫ́ézhii, lit. ‘in the shelter’, or < a similar form in another Athabaskan language.

N. Amer.

A snow shelter of a type originally used by North American Indians, consisting of a mound of snow with a domed chamber dug into it.
1984 G. Durrell How to shoot Amateur Naturalist v. 97 Crawling into the quinzhee, Lee found that, although the temperature outside was minus thirty, inside our snowhouse it was one degree above freezing.
1995 Leader (Canada) Mar. 26/1 The night they slept in their backyard quinzhee the temperature dropped to -15 C.
2005 K. Callan Happy Camper 252 Don’t forget to store your shovel inside the quinzee in case there’s a snowstorm..and you have to dig yourself out.

The fact that there are no citations prior to 1984 at least partly explains why I’ve never heard of it, but it’s a useful word (allowing “igloo” to be confined to structures made of ice), and I will try to remember to use it. (Both Wikipedia and the OED say the pronunciation is /ˈkwɪnziː/, though I don’t see why the zh sound couldn’t be used — and if it’s not, why not use the spelling quinzee?).

Comments

  1. Yep. Another one of our many words for snow.

  2. Slave is usually spelled Slavey today, though its etymology is < English slave, a calque of the Cree name. The endonym is Dene ‘people’, as for most Athabaskan peoples, sometimes with a qualifying place name.

  3. You wrote about quinzhee less than a year ago.

  4. I didn’t remember the previous mention of the word either.

    I am accustomed to running across the name Slavey; some of these people are having their land raped and poisoned by the extraction of crude oil from the tar sands: vide Great Slave and Lesser Slave Lakes; but I question whether the language is spoken on the Pacific Coast — marie lucie could enlighten us about that.

  5. Since I’ve lived in (and built) canonical igloos, I hope you take my words that they are made out of snow. More specifically at a hard wind slab (but not so hard as for the boots to make no imprint on it). The slabs are knife-cut or sawed into blocks, and the blocks are arranged in a spiral to form a cupola. Quinzhee looks like a cave dug in a snow pile – a very different technology (but the one which works in the localities without good wind slabs)

  6. Wikipedia gives igloo as an Inuit word for snow house. Perhaps Inuit languages and Athabaskan could have different words for certain things, dont celui?

  7. marie-lucie says:

    Iakon: No, indeed Slavey is not spoken by any ethnic group of the Pacific Coast.

    des: Traditional Inuit houses were made of snow, so igloo meant ‘house’ since there were no other. Summer shelters in areas which did not have snow in the summer were more airy and probably had another name than celui-ci.

  8. I think the bigger thing I missed is that they are in fact very different kinds of things, within the broad framework of snow cupoloid buildings. Definitely I spent my youth hoping (vainly) for enough snow to build a block-based igloo; the hollowed-out quinzhee was not on my mental map at all.

  9. You wrote about quinzhee less than a year ago.

    Ouch! I should really just make a habit of putting any “new” word I run across in the LH search box and save myself some grief.

  10. Trond Engen says:

    Dmitri Pruss: Since I’ve lived in (and built) canonical igloos, I hope you take my words that they are made out of snow.

    Seconded.

    More specifically at a hard wind slab (but not so hard as for the boots to make no imprint on it). The slabs are knife-cut or sawed into blocks, and the blocks are arranged in a spiral to form a cupola.

    My experience is that they’re notoriously difficult to plan for. The quality and thickness of the wind slab is not as expected and you end up sleeping in the tent you brought for backup.

    Quinzhee looks like a cave dug in a snow pile – a very different technology (but the one which works in the localities without good wind slabs)

    Do you use ‘quinzhee’ also for cave dug out in natural, wind-blown snowpiles, like at the foot of a hill?

    While the building techniques are different, the basic idea of a room inside the snow and the entrance through a tunnel below the wall trapping the heated air are the same, so one may well develop from the other.

  11. Sky Onosson says:

    Interesting! I’ve certainly heard of them although I’ve never built one, but I’ve only ever seen it spelled without the ‘h’.

  12. Time to mention the movie Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner). The most beautiful, detailed igloo-building and igloo-living scenes, including the finale, where the bad guy gets his through ingenious icecraft. I’m glad I got to see it in a movie theater, on a wide screen. And of course, all the dialog is in Inuktitut.

  13. Snow caves (the ones you dig out from the snow on the slope of the hill) are used by mountaineers, but probably not by indigenous people, because the intersection of heavy snow season, hilly landscape, absence of durable material for housing, and possibility to subsist is not large enough.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    About 10 years ago the city of Halifax was hit by a snowstorm which dropped almost a metre of snow overnight. This would not have been an emergency in Canadian cities such as Montréal or Québec which are prepared to deal with so much snow, but Halifax was paralyzed for over a week as it did not have anything close to the amount of equipment needed and had to borrow some from other cities. People took shovels and dug narrow paths in front of their houses or businesses to be able to walk outside, and on my street some enterprising neighbours cut snow blocks like those I had seen in pictures of igloos and built a high wall between their path and the street. That’s how I realized that building igloos cannot be done with just any type of snow but snow of the proper texture and weight, just what we had.

  15. Time to mention the movie Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner). The most beautiful, detailed igloo-building and igloo-living scenes, including the finale, where the bad guy gets his through ingenious icecraft. I’m glad I got to see it in a movie theater, on a wide screen. And of course, all the dialog is in Inuktitut.

    Heartily seconded! I thought surely I must have mentioned it on LH, but apparently not.

  16. [igloos are] notoriously difficult to plan for. The quality and thickness of the wind slab is not as expected and you end up sleeping in the tent you brought for backup.

    LOL. The only time when the exercise was practical, in my experience, happened when we set up a winter camp far above tree line, and early in the day too. With the Westerners’ sub-par igloo-building experience, it takes some time – but then it provides a lot better comfort on a wind-swept glacier than a tent 🙂 (It was a linguistically interesting area too, in the winter range of Telengit herders)

  17. That’s how I realized that building igloos cannot be done with just any type of snow but snow of the proper texture and weight, just what we had.

    Though it feels like it was back in the Neolithic when I last made (or threw) one, snowballs too require snow of the right texture and density. The fluffy, powdery variety doesn’t cut it, nor does the ice-like ‘skin’ that sometimes forms on the surface of, say, a snow-covered lawn. The best is what we called ‘packing snow,’ usually plentiful if the snow fell when the temperature wasn’t too far below freezing. The fluffy, powdery variety usually ‘decayed’ to ‘packing snow’ after a few days. And now that I think about it, the same applies to snowmen, er, snowpeople.

  18. Trond Engen says:

    and early in the day too

    Exactly. It takes its time, and you have to have the day. Same with a hillside snowcave, except that makes you soaking wet as well. So you go out and do it for the fun and the experience of it. But if you plan to have the camp for a few days, an igloo beats a snowcave beats a tent any day. Not that I’ve tried that.

    packing snow

    Norwegian kram snø (or as a compound kramsnø) with an adjective not used for anything else. Of course there’s a term in English too.

    Digging caves in piles of snow is what Norwegian children spend their long winter afternoons doing. Norwegian parents spend the mornings piling up more snow and the evenings drying mittens and boots. Or we do if there’s snow.

  19. Trond Engen says:

    Sky: I’ve only ever seen it spelled without the ‘h’.

    As popularized in the adventures of that famous trapper and pioneer of the northwestern frontier, Quinzee Jones.

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