blog, Living in Greenland, Travel

“Siku” [part 1]

Siku: ice 

I-c-e. Is this simple 3 letter English word so simple in Greenlandic?

As you may remember from one of my first posts, Ilulissat is the plural word for icebergs, while Iluliaq is a single iceberg. There’s a lot of it here, and without a doubt, in its abundance, people from around the world are drawn to seeing it with their own eyes. Perhaps spending hours upon hours staring at the ice has made me wonder – what’s the story of ice? How does it come into being, where does it go?


I remember before arriving in Greenland, I asked Frederik how many words for there are for ‘ice’. I could almost hear the laughter on the other side of the screen as he typed ‘we definitely have more than one word for ice’.

He typed what I imagine was a “short” list of the first ice-related words he could think of in that moment.

Siku (sikoq) – is a common word for ice (like ice cube, ice cream and flat ocean ice) (Sikut plural)
Sikuarpoq – Early ice on the ocean
Sikuvoq – The ocean is freezing into ice
Sikkorippoq – Good ocean ice (safe)
Sikkorluppoq – Bad ocean ice (unsafe)
Sikuiuitsoq – Ocean ice which never disappears.
North pole – Sikuiuitsoq avannarleq
South pole – Sikuiuitsoq kujalleq
Puttaaq – Broken flat ice (common in the spring, when ocean ice starts to break up, then we jump from puttaaq to puttaaq)
Sermeq – when water or lake is frozen, not tiny scale.
Sermersuaq – In land ice (look at the ending suaq, remember when I told you about something big, the ending suaq is put)
Kassuk – Black ice
Nilak – Drinking ice (Nilattarta – let us get some drinking ice)

He listed more than 10 words, and if you ask me to list different “types” of ice, I would probably name descriptive characteristics like big ice, small ice, the ice that when you lick your tongue sticks.


Ice is truly incredible. But perhaps what is more incredible is the relationship the Greenlandic people have with ice. I cannot recognise the difference between Sikkorippoq (good ocean ice, safe) and Sikkorluppoq (bad ocean ice, unsafe).

Each iceberg is unique, moulded by its individual journey through the polar seas. They float low in the water due to the sheer weight of the ice, which is why the tip of an iceberg is no measure of what lies beneath.

Circling back to my initial questions, how does iceberg form and why are they important? I want to better understand their birth, journey, and end. I want to understand why every day I run into scientists, photographers, journalists, and tourists saying we’re here for the “ice”. Why is ice studied for centuries, yet suddenly it feels like the image of an iceberg (+baby polar bear) is gaining global importance and becoming the symbol of climate change?


I will try to unravel the simple and complex beginnings of an iceberg and highlight it’s importance in the next several posts.