A quinzhee is not an igloo. A quinzhee begins with people mounding frozen snow which is then hollowed out to make low-ceilinged living space for temporary human shelter inside the frozen snow mound. Aboriginal peoples across what is now northern Canada invented the quinzhee. By contrast, an igloo is made by stacking cut blocks of snow.
Etymology of Quinzhee
Quinzhee is probably Canadian in origin, although widely used in the Untied States.
The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd edition, 2004, states that quinzhee is from the Athapascan language family and means “bowl-shaped depression in snow; shelter.” Athapascan languages are spoken across the expansive swath of Canada’s subarctic and northern prairie regions. Member languages include Chipewyan, Dogrib, Gwich’in and Slave.
A recent online update draft (December 2007) in the larger Oxford English Dictionary pinpoints the etymology with this Slave phrase:
khnézhii, literally ‘in the shelter.’
The word seems to have gained wider use in English only in the last twenty years. The OED’s earliest print citation is for 1984.
Variant spellings abound and include quincy, quincey, quinzee, quinzie, and quince.
Click here to learn some other Canadian words and places that are of Athapascan origin.
Quinzhee Building Tips
Don Weiss, retired high school science teacher, wrote this:
“The quinzhee is a shelter of Athapaskan origin used in colder boreal forest regions of North America where snow is generally loose lying and of very low density. A quinzhee, or snow hut, is warmer than a tent and easy to construct. The temperature inside the quinzhee goes no lower than 28°F no matter how cold it is outside. The domed outside of the structure becomes self-supporting after a very short time because of the rapid increase in bonding strength between ice crystals during destructive metamorphism from the weight of the snow itself.”
Quinzhee Construction (from the Wiki web)
“It is not difficult to make a quinzhee, though it will be warmer and stronger if certain techniques are carefully followed. For strength, the quinzhee needs to be a dome and the lower walls must not need to support too much weight. The walls should be very thick at the base and get slightly thinner towards to the top of the dome. For warmth, the entrance of the quinzhee should be a tunnel with an upward sloping floor such that the floor is slightly higher then the top of the entrance. Be careful not to increase the height of the door by hitting it with your back each time you enter!
How to build a quinzhee
To make a quinzhee, make a large dome of snow. When making the pile, consider the inside shape that you want. A quinzhee to sleep two should have an oval footprint. Remember to make it high enough so that the floor can be elevated. Placing it on a hill can help with this. The length needs to be the wall thickness plus the length of your sleeping bag.
Once the pile is done, insert sticks straight in to a depth of 30 cm. As you dig it out, these sticks will tell you when you are near the outside so that you won't dig through. Wait for an hour or two for the snow to settle. The snow will re-form into a hard material that will not fall in when it is dug out.
Dig out the quinzhee with a small shovel. The fastest way is to cut blocks and push those towards the door. Cut the blocks left, right, top, and bottom. Don't pry too much as this can create cracks in the wall. As you get further in, it will be helpful to have a person outside moving the snow out of the tunnel and away. Eventually, two people will be able to fit inside and the digging goes much faster.”
Ecstatic Canadian Extols The Quinzhee Life in a Blog:
“Can you tell I am Canadian?? haha .... Only Canadians would enjoy going up North for 3 days to live in this thing called a Quinzhee.
We camp each year in a Provincial Park in Ontario called Algonquin Park. Their facilities are open in the winter at MEW Lake, so that is where we go. Algonquin is beautiful in the winter. Most years we have gone up in January, but February has more snow so I think we will do February from now on. Global warming is killing the snow in January :(
My first year up to the park in January was in 1985, so for over 20 years I have been doing this. Well, I haven't been making Quinzhees quite that long, but I have been doing the winter camping thing for over 20 years. My friend introduced me to this concept that long ago, and although he doesn't come up any more, I have never missed a year since. One year I saw this mound of snow in the camp ground and wondered what it was. It was indeed a QUINZHEE. That's when I put my engineering hat on (no, I am not an engineer) and have had a blast with this ever since. My 2 other main side-kicks have been doing this with me since almost the beginning.”
Learn some winter words perhaps new to you, gems like hibernaculum and nivosity.
© 2012 copyright William Gordon Casselman
Reviews of my Book
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A Great New Review of My Latest Book!
October 26, 2011
Welcome to the Enchanted Forest
By WB Johnston
This review is about Bill Casselman’s latest e-book about words: Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A Word Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems (Kindle Edition)
“Wade Davis, lately of National Geographic, once described each living language as “an old-growth forest of the human spirit.” Once you decide to enter the kleptomaniacal woods of our mother tongue, what you need is more than a tour guide. This is no Disney-fied ‘keep-your-hands-inside-the-car-at all-times’, point A to point B, clear-cutting mining of language. You, here, are in the hands of Sir William of Cassel, a genuine shaman modestly posing as a simple lover of words.
Leave it on your desk at work and trust that someone will riffle through it when you are out at lunch. Shamans are magicians of the highest order. The work of their hands and hearts is game-changing. Or, hey, put it on your Kindle and just feel comforted that you can wander back out into the forest with Bill even in the middle of a boring lecture.
(Casselman replies: Thank you so much, Dr. J., for the kudos.)
Jenni French of San Francisco, California writes on her blog “My Corner of the Universe” for March 19, 2011:
Casselman, Bill. Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A World Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.
And the author has quite a way with words, so I have found myself rereading many sentences in this book and slowing my progress through it.
My current favorite sentence is found in a discussion of dog hybrid breed names: “What a revolting concatenation of cutesiness and smarmy nomenclatorial treacle parading under the name of canine hybrid breed names” (19).
I’m sure I’ll have another favorite sentence in a day or two.
This book is just that good and just that entertaining.”
(Author Bill Casselman replies: “Thanks, Jenni!” )
Just a reminder that this book contains my ALL-NEW word essays, none of which are available anywhere else in print or online.
Cindy Lapeña on her blog “Creativity Unlimited” of July 19 ,2011, writes:
Posted by mimrlith in 365 Things to Look Forward to.
19. Starting a book
To a certified bibliophile like me, a.k.a. bookworm, one of the most exciting things to look forward to is to start reading a new book. In fact, sometimes the prospect of starting to read a new book is so exciting that I have to hurry to finish the book I am currently reading, just so I can start a new one.
If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a book, especially if it promises to be a good one. Of course there are certain books I just won’t touch or be seen with, but at the risk of being hung by my thumbs by fans of such literature, I will not mention any genres in particular. . .
Seeing a book with a title that totally captivates me, like Where a Dobdob meets a Dikdik (yes, that is a book title!) has me so worked up, I just can’t wait to dive in. I imagine all sorts of deliciously fancifully outrageous words with a title like that. Is it obvious? I just love books on words. You won’t believe how many dictionaries I own. Or books on lexical oddities and other lexical explorations. Yes, I am a logophile of sorts. I love the new words I pick up from new books. I relish finding out the meanings of all manner of words and phrases and expressions. What could be more fun?”
(Replies author Bill Casselman: Please scroll to bottom of page or click here to link to a free seven-page preview of my book, Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Dear Mr. Casselman,
. . . I revisited the paraprosdokian page, and have finally quit laughing again at “Casselman’s Conclusion.” You were not unkind to the “profligate prof-lets.” During my years as an acquisitions editor, in rejection letters I often quoted Prof. Moses Hadas, classicist at Columbia University, who wrote a young scholar in response to having been sent the prof-let’s first book, “Thank you for sending me your book. I will waste no time reading it.”
I invite you to tour my site and select from the hundreds of word stories here.
To begin, click on the Word List banner below.
Then perhaps browse the site map with its links to every page of my
If you want to share some wonderful Canadian sayings, you will find more than 3,000 Canadian expressions in my books. Each of my three volumes of Canadian Sayings contains about 1,200 zesty phrases used by Canadians both today and throughout our history. Remember that profits from the sale of my books keep this website online.
This new book is available from November 2007 and can be ordered at any bookstore in the world. Among the essay contributors in Readings for Technical Communication are George Grant, Marshall McLuhan, C.P. Snow, George Orwell, Stephen Strauss, William Zinsser and, yours ever in abject humility — Bill Casselman.
2007 - Bill Casselman's latest publication
is an essay in a new book entitled
Barry Callaghan: Essays on his Works
in the Writers Series published by Guernica Editions