snow n…. 2.a. Anything resembling snow. b. The white specks on a television screen resulting from weak reception.
crash v….—intr….5. To fail suddenly, as a business or an economy.
—The American Heritage Dictionary
virus….[L. virus slimy liquid, poison, offensive odour or taste.] 1. Venom, such as is emitted by a poisonous animal. 2. Path. a. A morbid principle or poisonous substance produced in the body as the result of some disease, esp. one capable of being introduced into other persons or animals by inoculations or otherwise and of developing the same disease in them….3. fig. A moral or intellectual poison, or poisonous influence.
—The Oxford English Dictionary
What's up with the epigraph?
What is this epigraph about? Words. What are words a part of? Language. So from the very start of the book, Stephenson is cluing us in to the fact that language is important, yo. What else is important? Sudden failures. Viruses. Poisons. Fun stuff.
Has your computer ever frozen up, leaving you cursing and staring at a blank screen while wondering how much data you've lost? We're guessing this has happened to most everyone at one point or another. Best-case scenario, whatever you were working on was saved recently enough that you didn't lose much of your work. Worst case, it can lead to a complete hard drive failure, and having to pay out big time to get a tech professional to try to resurrect your computer.
That, friends, is the crash part of the Snow Crash. Whether it's totally catastrophic or just another annoyance in your day, the sudden failure of technology is an frustrating but inevitable part of life.
The snow part of the epigraph is a little more cryptic at first, but it's the most visually concrete of the three definitions we're given. It makes it easy to visualize those white specks on a non-functioning screen, whether it's the blizzard appearance of a broken TV screen or the blue screen of death that'll show up on computers…and then think about them in relation to things breaking down, possibly due to the introduction of a poison. That's…pleasant? At the very least, it sets your brain-wheels in motion, thinking about the possible connections between these things.