Most states take pride in their regional vocabulary, and Alaska is no exception. Our personal brand of slang blends our history — including words with Native Alaskan, Russian, and frontier roots — and our sense of isolation from the rest of the US. Like many things in Alaska, our regionalisms may seem a little odd to outsiders, but learning these phrases will help you get the lay of the land.
Here are 11 Alaskanisms to get you started.
Cheechakos, your greenhorns — the transplants who head north with big dreams but haven’t quite mastered the Alaskan way of life.
You know a “break-up” has arrived when the spring air is filled with a pungent smell that’s faintly reminiscent of defrosting manure.
Sourdoughs are the grizzly, seasoned Alaskans who’ve seen it all and are fully acclimated to life up north. They’re most often spotted wearing a full beard, a sturdy pair of overalls, and a weathered look on their faces.
There is a strong distinction between “outside” (the outdoors) and “Outside” with a capital O. The latter is an umbrella word for any place other than Alaska –- i.e. “We spent the winter Outside.”
Nothing gets us heated like the snow machine vs. snowmobile debate – but there is a third entrant: the “sno-go.” Commonly used in northern parts of the state, consider it the only other acceptable term for a snow machine when you’re on our turf.
6. Termination Dust
Termination Dust serves as a sobering reminder that winter is coming as it climbs down the mountain.
7. The Bush
Forget the urban/rural divide –- the real split is whether you’re on the road system or in the Bush. These small, far-flung communities are so rural they’re only accessible by bush plane. And while road system folks enjoy all kinds of amenities, the Bush is a whole other level of hardcore.
8. The Slope
The Slope represents both a livelihood and a lifestyle. It’s short for the Northern Slope, Alaska’s oil fields located above the Arctic Circle and bordering Prudhoe Bay. Here, many Alaskans work two weeks on, two weeks off, and if you can bear the darkness, extreme temperatures, and 14 hours days, there’s serious money to be made.
While Heracleum maximum is more commonly known as cow parsnip, Alaskans opt for its Russian name. We steer clear of pushki, which leaves nasty lesions, or pushki burns, that only worsen in the sunlight.
10. The fireweed is blooming.
“The fireweed is blooming,” isn’t an offhand remark — it’s a lament. Once in bloom, summer is officially over.
11. Lower 48
Used neutrally, unless we’re talking about shipping…“Can you believe they only ship to the Lower 48?”
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