They Have a Word for It

. . . and if they don’t, they’ll make one up. Hovercraft, glass, uranium, consensus: seek and you shall find. ᓇᓂᓂᐊᖅᑕᐃᑦ (naniniaqtait). Oxymoron, paradox and duct tape: still looking. ᕿᓂᖅᓴᖅᑕᕋ (qiniqsaqtara). But I know they’re out there somewhere.


When affixes and inflectional endings get too exhausting, turn to the free-standing lexical items. Think of all the syllables you’ll save when you can say, in a single word, that you’re taking out the garbage (ᐊᒃᑕᖅ aktaq-), your stomach is rumbling (ᖁᓗᐊᖅ quluaq-), or you’re tired of waiting for someone (ᓂᐴᖅ nipuuq-).



Spouses and roommates, pay special attention to ᐊᒃᑕᖅ- (aktaq-). The verb root is a mere two syllables, affording its target very little time to escape from the room, put his fingers in his ears, or crank up the volume on the TV—especially since the imperative -ᒋᑦ (-git) adds only one more syllable. ᐊᒃᑕᕆᑦ (aktarit)!*

He could try to drown you out with music:

ᐃᒻᖏᕆᑦᑎ imngiritti- or ᐃᙱᕆᑦᑎ inngiritti-, intransitive verb, to play the accordion

ᑎᑕᖅ titaq- the same, if you live in North Baffin

ᓂᑉᔮᖅᑎᑕᖅ nibjaaqtitaq- the same again, Padleimiut version

This group of words can all mean, more generically, to make music. But the accordion is clearly privileged. The ᐃᙱᕆᑦᑎ- (inngiritti-) form is connected with the root ᐃᙱᖅ- (inngiq-) “sing”, while ᓂᑉᔮᖅᑎᑕᖅ- (nibjaaqtitaq-) breaks up into ᓂᑉᔮᖅ- (nibjaaq-), meaning—says the dictionary—to make “a charac­teristic repeti­tious noise”, plus ᑎᑕᖅ (titaq) again. What happens next presumably depends on how you feel about the accordion. Maybe you’re better off just taking out the garbage yourself.

* If that seems too blunt, you could try ᐊᒃᑕᓚᐅᕆᑦ (aktalaurit), ᐊᒃᑕᖃᓚᐅᕆᑦ (aktaqalaurit) or ᐊᒃᑕᓵᕆᑦ (aktasaarit), “Willya please just take out the garbage already! It will only take a minute and then I’ll stop bugging you.”

Like chirping if you are a bird, or rustling if you are a leaf, or meowing if you are a cat whose human does not care to get up just yet, or nagging about the garbage if you are an exasperated spouse.

Happiness Is . . . A New Acquisition

On the way to warning us about -ᕈᓗᒃ (-ruluk), the Honorable Jack Arawak said

ilangit aksualuk tukiliu­ttiara­ksaungi­mmata imaittut sarimanaq, naglinniq ᐃᓚᖏᑦ ᐊᒃᓱᐊᓗᒃ ᑐᑭᓕᐅ­ᑦᑎᐊᕋ­ᒃᓴᐅᖏ­ᒻᒪᑕ ᐃᒪᐃᑦᑐᑦ ᓴᕆᒪᓇᖅ, ᓇᒡᓕᓐᓂᖅ It’s very hard to interpret some words like if you say sarimannaq, or naglinaq


It’s harder still, of course, when you’re not sure whether he originally said ᓇᒡᓕᓐᓂᖅ (naglinniq)—which in turn may be Big-Island-Speak for ᓇᒡᓕᖕᓂᖅ (naglingniq)—or ᓇᒡᓕᓇᖅ (naglinaq). Or possibly ᓇᒡᓕᓂᖅ (nagliniq), ᓇᒡᓕᓐᓇᖅ (naglinnaq) or ᓇᒡᓕᖕᓇᖅ (naglingnaq). All you can say for sure is that there’s a ᓇᒡᓕᒃ (naglik-) root in there somewhere. It is also not easy to interpret the mega-verb ᑐᑭᓕᐅᑦᑎᐊᕋᒃᓴᐅᖏᒻᒪᑕ (tukiliu­ttiara­ksaungi­mmata). But it’s funny that he should mention ᓴᕋᒪ- (sarima-), because it really is hard to interpret something when you’re faced with at least three definitions.

In the Hansard itself, the ᓴᕆᒪ- (sarima-) root—which is to say ᓴᕆᒪᓱᒃ- (sarimasuk-), because it’s one of those verbs—is generally used to translate “proud”. Not in the sense of “prideful”, but as when a person or community is justifiably proud of some accom­plishment.

Dictionary Entry No. 1 says “happy over a new acqui­sition”. Want to see my latest kitchen gadget? It stirs my cocoa for me.

Dictionary Entry No. 2 says, ambiguously, “happy to have got what you wanted”. Does that mean “Neener-neener, they’re putting the uranium mine in my district and not yours”?* Or does it mean that that tiny box under the Christmas tree turned out to contain the keys to the precise make and model of Arctic Work­horse that you’ve been coveting ever since they came out?

You’re right, Mr Arawak. It is hard to interpret some words.

* Or vice versa, depending on the speaker’s personal feelings on the subject.

Verbs No Parent of a Toddler Should Be Without

From bottom to top:

7. ᐊᓐᓄᕌᖅ annuraaq-, transitive, to dress someone

6. ᓯᖏᖅ singiq-, to tie someone’s shoelaces

5. ᑲᒃᑭᑦ kakkit-, transitive, to wipe someone’s nose or upper lip

4. ᐊᖒᖅ anguuq-, intransitive, to wet your pants

3. ᐃᓴ isa-, gi verb, to hurt someone a little to make them behave

2. ᕿᓄ qinu-, intransitive, to plead or beg for something which is refused


and, finally:

1. ᕿᓄᒋ qinugi-, transitive, and ᑭᓄᒃᓴᖅ qinuksaq-, intransitive,* to be impatient with or tired of a child begging for some­thing which has been refused.


When your toddler settles down for his nap, you may be able to take an interest in other aspects of your attire, as in this trio of intransitive verbs:

ᕿᕐᑎ qirti-, to push up or roll up one’s sleeves in order to wash or cut something

ᑲᐅ kau-, to feel or look for something in one’s pockets

ᑲᐃᐱᑦ kaipit-, to put one’s hands inside the sleeves of opposite arms.

Just the other day in the grocery store I overheard a mother informing a child that People Don’t Do That, referring to the last of the three. Well, if nobody did it, there wouldn’t be a word for it, would there?


You might also pause to inspect your

ᑕᕐᕋᖅ tarraq, noun, mirror image

Just remember, the smudge you see on your left cheek is really on the right. Unless you’re looking into one of those unnerving optician mirrors that show you as you really look. O wad some pow’r the giftie gi’e us, and so on.


tired of waiting

Inescapable follow-up question: How do you say “et cetera” or “and so on” in Inuktitut? The dictionary is unhelpful, but the Hansard comes through with lots and lots of ᐊᓯᖏᓪᓗ (asingillu) or, for polysylla­bicity’s sake, ᐊᓯᖏᓐᓄᓪᓗ (asinginnullu). The longer form looks like a dative; I’m not going to press my luck by looking it up and finding out it’s nothing of the sort. The ᓗ (-lu) at the end is simply a tacked-on “and” in its simplest, postpositive form. Peel away the extraneous stuff and it all comes down to ᐊᓯᖏᑦ (asingit) or ᐊᓯᐊ (asia) which, by the usual yawn-provoking coincidence, I met only a few days ago while pursuing my inquiries into duct tape. It means “and assorted other stuff”—in other words, “and so on”.

Do you suppose the language thought it could scare me with that postpositive-conjunction business? When you’ve been brought up on a diet of -que, τε and च, a mere ᐊᓯᖏᓐᓄᓪᓗ (asinginnullu) can hold no terrors. Alongside -lu for “and” and ᓕ (-li) for “but”, there’s -ᑕᐅᖅ (-tauq) “and also”, -ᓘᓐᓃᑦ (-luunniit) “or”—expanding to “either . . . or . . .” if you’ve got a matched pair—and -ᒎᖅ (-guuq) “he says”. Or “she says”, or “they say”. Or इति, so ᐊᓐᓂᖅᐸᓐᓇ (anniqpanna) to you too.

In the fine tradition of “garret” and “cockloft”, -ᒎᖅ (-guuq) is allowed to come after absolutely anything—including -li and -lu, which each have to come at the very end of the word.

* I’m going by what the dictionary tells me. It might be more accurate to describe it as a gi verb with the less common intransitive affix ᒃᓴᖅ (ksaq), parallel to the unaffixed form ᕿᓄ- (qinu-).

Germans may experience a nasty moment of linguistic contamination at the thought of finding a wad of elderly Kaugummi in there.

The opposite is, of course, not even remotely true.

Are You Feeling All Right?

This semantic connection gets to me every time.

ᐊᐅᒃ auk-, verb root meaning
1. to melt or thaw
2. to bleed at the nose

If your nosebleed goes on long enough, will you disappear entirely, or be reduced to a mere puddle of ᐊᐅᒃ (auk, blood)?



On a similarly depressing note, consider the word ᐊᓄᓪᓚᕐᓯᕕᒃ anullarsivik, “prison”. It’s built on the verb root ᐊᓄᓪᓚᖅ- (anullaq-) “to be solemn or grim-faced”. Or, if you prefer your roots in small pieces,* ᐊᓄᑦ- (anut-) with supple­mentary affix -ᓪᓚᖅ- (-llaq-), meaning to do something heavily or clumsily. You do not often see people being solemn or grim-faced in a lively, sprightly or light-footed manner.

The ᐊᓄᓪᓚᕐᓯᕕᒃ (anullarsivik) is only for people who misbehave in Nunavik and adjoining regions. On the other side of Hudson Bay you are more likely to end up in ᐸᙵᐃᕐᓯᒪᑉᕕᒃ panngair­simabvik, from the verb root ᐸᙵᐃᖅ- (panngaiq-) meaning to lock up, or at least fasten tightly. Which sets off its own line of speculation. Locking things up in any meaningful way requires materials that would tradi­tionally have been in short supply, like metal and stone, or at least wood. You can’t lock a tent. You could build a snow house without an entrance, but don’t expect it to work for more than a day or two. On the smaller scale, locking your backpack, as travelers like to do, may keep passing strangers from pawing through your stuff while you’re waiting in the ticket line. But it doesn’t do much against a determined thief or Customs inspector.

In any case, the noun gives no clue as to whether the solemnity or grim-facedness is intended to describe the prisoner or the guard. Maybe it’s a generic “all ye who enter here”, extending even unto the visitors.


If you want to be really downbeat, consider

ᐃᓖᔭᖅᓱᖅ iliijaqsuq-, to torture or maim someone with intent

This verb can go either way, non-specific or specific, which strikes me as a little unfair. If you’re going to go around maiming and torturing people, shouldn’t you at least find out who you’re doing it to? I don’t know whether there exists some other, as yet undis­covered—by me, I mean—verb meaning to torture or main someone by accident.

* When the thaw layer is anywhere from a few inches to a couple of feet, you don’t really have much choice on this point.

And then only if their local court system does not employ Circle Sentencing—a subject I am not prepared to touch with a barge pole.

up in the sky
Look! Up in the sky! It’s a small mobile object!

All right, enough verbs already.

ᐱᖕᓇ pingna, pronoun, “that one up there”

—but only when referring to small, mobile things like a bird or plane. There’s a different “up there” pronoun, ᐸᖕᓇ (pangna), for large immobile things like mountains, cloud formations or open-pit gold mines. The ᐱᖕᓇ (pingna) form is the one you use for the guy in the cape. Or the guy in the red suit, propelled by ᓯᑕᒧᐅᔪᖅᑐᕐᓄᑦ ᑐᒃᑐᑯᓗᖕᓄᑦ (sitamau­juqturnut tuktu­kulungnut). If you see him, he’s probably carrying a Russian phrase book. The North Pole—the magnetic one, that is—used to be comfortably located within Nunavut, but it’s heading westward at a brisk pace.

If you’re getting a crick in your neck, consider

ᐊᕐᑐᖅ artuq, a bird too fat to fly

Who would have guessed that Inuktitut would have a word for turkeys? If your bird is reasonably svelte and it still can’t fly, you may instead be looking at

ᐃᓴ isa, a molting bird, especially one that is molting its wing feathers

Incidentally, in the far north it is not considered unsportsmanlike to kill an animal that can’t get away. It is considered ordinary common sense. You don’t find a lot of bears lying in wait for the handsomest buck with the biggest antlers, either.

falling snow

As long as we’re in the Great Outdoors—the ᓯᓚᕐᔪᐊᖅ (silarjuaq), if you like—let’s look around. For most of the year, what you will see is a whole lot of

ᐊᐳᑦ aput, snow

All right, so Boas was off by an order of magnitude. He never claimed to be a mathematician. If you limit yourself to discrete lexical items, you’ve got:

ᖃᓐᓂᖅ qanniq, noun, falling snow

ᒪᐅᔭ mauja, deep soft newly-fallen snow

ᐱᕐᓯᖅ pirsiq or ᐱᕐᑐᖅ pirtuq, drifting snow

ᓂᐅᒻᒪᒃ niummak, hard corrugated snow seen after wind has blown away deep snow

ᐳᑲᒃ pukak or ᐳᑲᔭᖅ pukajaq, dry crumbly or sandy snow which has lost water content; “sugar” snow

ᓴᐅ sau, powdered or broken-up snow which is thrown over the roof of the igloo as insulation

ᐃᔭᕈᕙᒃ ijaruvak, melting spring snow which has formed into ice crystals

ᒪᓴᒃ masak, wet saturated snow

But don’t get the idea that snow is the only meteorological phenomenon worth naming. Back among the verbs there’s

ᖃᔾᔪᔾᔭᐅ qajjujjai-, ᐆᒃᑲᕈᔾᔭᐅ uukkarujjai- or ᓇᑲᑦ nakat-—the choice depends on where you live—to be stranded on moving ice

ᐊᒡᒍᖅ agguq-, to face into the wind


This brings up a strange feature of Inuktitut. There are no words for east and west.* And this flies in the face of linguistic dogma. You always have words for east and west; it’s where the sun rises and sets. Well, except in the far North, where the normal locations of sunrise and sunset each cover half the horizon. If you are far enough north, the locations may be better expressed with a calendar than a compass.

If you search intensively you can find words that claim to mean “due east” and “due west”, along with “north” and “south”. But they’re either modern coinages or slight manglings of existing words. Like ᑲᖏᐊᓂ (kangiani), “east”, which bears a suspicious resemblance to the locative of ᑲᖏᐊ (kangia), “join or junction”. Where day joins night, I guess—but only in the immediate vicinity of the equinoxes.

What you have instead is ᐅᐊᖕᓇᖅ (uangnaq) or ᐅᐊᖕᓂᖅ (uangniq), the direction of the prevailing wind, which happens to be northwest. Its counterpart is ᓂᒡᒋᖅ (niggiq), southeast. In between you get ᑲᓇᖕᓇᖅ (kanangnaq)—or -ᓂᖅ (-niq)—for northeast, and ᐱᖓᕐᓇᖅ, -ᓂᖅ (pingarnaq, -niq) or ᐊᑭᓐᓇᖅ (akinnaq) for southwest. The important points are windward and leeward; the verb root ᐊᒡᒍᖅ- (agguq-) has its counterpart in ᐅᖅᖂᕐᒥᒃ- (uqquurmik-), to face or travel with the wind at your back. There are even words for traveling with the wind at your side. Drivers of tractor-trailer trucks may want to add ᐊᖕᒪᖅᑐᖅ- (angmaqtuq-) or ᓴᓂᖅᕿᔭᖅ- (saniqqijaq-) to their vocabularies. But you’ll have to park the words in Yellowknife. The roads don’t go any further.


* I am not concerned with north and south, because those aren’t cross-linguistic abso­lutes. There’s always something to fill the gaps between east and west, but it isn’t always compass points. It might be “upstream” and “down­stream” (think Egypt), “land­ward” and “seaward”, “uphill” and “down­hill”, “wind­ward” and “leeward”—you name it, some language has got it.