The previous post traced Spanish nieve ‘snow’ to Latin nix, with stem niv-, which meant the same thing. From the Latin noun came the adjective niveus, that the Romans used to describe things that were ‘made of snow, snowy, snow-white.’ Not coincidentally, the capitalized feminine Nivea is the brand name of a skin cream, which at least some etymology-minded people may buy with the expectation that it will make their skin snowy-white.
The Nivea website provides this bit of company history: “Dr. Oscar Troplowitz had acquired Beiersdorf in Hamburg, Germany, from its founder Paul C. Beiersdorf in 1890. Until NIVEA Creme was invented, Troplowitz very successfully developed and produced the first technical adhesive tapes along with medical plasters and the first adhesive rubber. His scientific adviser, Professor Paul Gerson Unna, also had a sure eye for development and progress. He was the one who alerted Dr. Troplowitz to the invention of Eucerit, which had been the basis for the NIVEA Creme.”
Skin cream aside, Spanish has adopted Latin niveus as níveo ‘snowy, snow-white,’ while English niveous similarly means ‘snowy, snowlike.’ As an example of usage, The Thinker’s Thesaurus gives this quotation by George Myers Jr. from the Columbus [Ohio] Dispatch in 1997: “No other creature, excluding T. rex, has been returned to life more frequently than the man with the niveous hair, roustabout mustache and ivory-and-cream suit.” There’s also a tooth-whitening system called Niveous®, which may even be getting used by people who have Nivea on nearby parts of their skin.
It took a couple of millennia for Latin nivea to see new life as the name of a skin cream, but already in Roman times the stem niv- gave rise to the adjective nivalis, which meant ‘having to do with snow, made of snow.’ Scientific English has borrowed that in the form nival to mean ‘having to do with snow,’ and especially ‘growing in or under snow.’ Spanish has carried over a different Latin adjective, nivosus ‘full of snow, snowy,’ as nevoso, but whether that can outdo its English rival nival is an open and perhaps unanswerable question.
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman