virus: 200 words for snow

Reed Konsler (
Wed, 4 Jun 1997 11:51:58 -0400 (EDT)

Date: Tue, 3 Jun 1997 23:28:47 -0700 (PDT)
From: Grant Callaghan <>

Someone asked why the meme that there are 200 words for snow in the
Inuit language keeps replicating itself. The answer is that someone
used it once in a widely-broadcast communication and lots of other
people saw it, liked it, and latched on to it so they could use it
in their communications. It is a tool that helped them put across
a point. It was successful, so others took it up. It helped them
raise their status among their peers in a type of transaction.

Grant, could you please read that paragraph again? This is an example
of a constuct which is tightly circular. From my perspective you have
said "meme X propogates because it is a meme and propogates as memes
propogate". I was questioning why this meme, specifically, persists
despite lack of support...what "good memes" does it contain, what
weaknesses does it specifically tack advantage of? Is is random? I think
not, and in understanding it's nature we might reveal our blindness and
discover a host of "fellow-travellers" taking advantage of the same

Why did the originator use it as an example?
How did it get (and continue to get) past fact-checking discriminators?
Why did other people remember it, in the hurricane of forgotten memes?
How did it evolve?
Why do so many people use it to make so many different points?
Why does it's use raise the status of it's users, especially considering
that it is false (ouch, I say that only to be brief)?
How does the revelation of it's lack of foundation change the meaning?
What will you think the next time you read something using
"400 words for snow" as an example?
Why do you now think it is a false meme? On my say so? On Steven
Pinker's authority? Who do you trust? What are your standards
of evidence?

Curiouser and Curiouser,


Reed Konsler