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Alaska Lingo: The Wild Slang of Anchorage & Alaska

Alaskans have some pretty unusual terminology that can be confusing to the untrained ear. Here’s a list of terms that may be helpful when talking to an Alaskan or writing about Anchorage and the state.

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Alaska – Aleut word meaning “Great Land.”

Alaska Marine Highway – The statewide ferry system, connecting remote villages throughout the inside passage as well as along the Aleutian Islands.

ALCAN – Short for the Alaska/Canada Highway, this famed highway runs through Canada and connects Alaska with the Lower 48.

Alpenglow – The pink glow on mountain peaks at sunset.

Arctic Circle – An imaginary line that circles the North Pole.

Aurora Borealis – Another name for northern lights; shimmering curtains in the night sky. The best times of the year to view the Aurora Borealis is during the equinox, the months of March and September.

Break-up – Alaska’s “fifth season” happens between winter and spring when the snow begins to melt and rivers thaw.

The Bush – Typically refers to places in Alaska not accessible by the road system, which encompasses a large portion of the state.

Cache
(CASH) - A food storage cabin that is elevated out of reach of both animals and children. The little elevated log cabins are mainly for decoration around and near town.

Cheechako – This is a newcomer to Alaska, and what in the west would have been called a "greenhorn."

Chinook winds – Unseasonably warm winds that can cause a snow thaw in the middle of winter.

Chugach – (Chew-gach) The Chugach people gave their name to Chugach National Forest, the Chugach Mountains, and Alaska's Chugach State Park, all located in or near the traditional range of the Chugach people in southcentral Alaska.

Combat fishing - Alaska features the most salmon rich fishing streams in the world. Opening day is so eagerly anticipated that hundreds of anglers will line the banks of the river, shoulder to shoulder, casting for fish. The trick is to actually hook a salmon and not a fellow fisherman.

Dena’ina (Den-eye-een-ah) – The Dena’ina are Alaska Native people and the original inhabitants of the Southcentral Alaska region.  

Denali (deh-NAL-ee) – This Athabascan word means the "High One" or the "Great One." Denali is the name given to the massive 20,320-foot peak by the Athabascan people. Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, is the tallest peak in North America.

Floatplane – Planes with floats in place of wheels for water landings.

Iditarod – “The Last Great Race on Earth.” The 1,049 mile sled dog race to Nome kicks off with the ceremonial Anchorage start on the first Saturday in March.

Inside Passage – Maze of islands and protected waterways along the Southeast Panhandle. Longest sheltered waterway in the world and most popular Alaska cruise route.

Kuspuk (KUSS-puck) – A cloth parka cover often made of velvet or brightly colored cotton print.

Lower 48 – Alaskans refer to the continental United States as the Lower 48 for all of the contiguous states excluding Alaska and Hawaii.

Mudflats – Each time the tide goes out it exposes extensive mudflats, which are composed of glacial silt carried down by rivers to the sea. These mudflats hugging the coast of Anchorage exhibit a quicksand-like quality and if you venture out onto them during low tide there is a very real possibility of becoming seriously stuck. SO DO NOT WALK ON THE MUDFLATS!

Mushing – Alaska’s state sport – driving a sled pulled by a team of dogs.

Outside – Any place not in Alaska.

Permafrost – Ground that stays frozen all year round and causes the humps and bumps in the Alaska road system.

PFD – This is the permanent fund dividend, which is derived from a state savings account created by constitutional amendment that requires at least 25 percent of Alaska's royalties from oil to be set aside, with only the interest earnings available for spending. Permanent Alaska residents, who apply annually, have been fortunate to receive a yearly dividend check.

Qiviut (KIH-vee-yoot) – The warm under-wool of the musk ox can be knitted into hats, scarves and other garments. It's stronger and eight-times warmer than wool from sheep and softer than silk or cashmere.

Run – Refers to the time when fish swim back up the rivers to spawn. This is when they are harvested. 

Sleeping Lady – This is the local name for Mount Susitna and a well-told Alaska legend, of a silhouette of a woman stretched out and sleeping on her back. The mountain is located across the Cook Inlet and is visible from Anchorage, and often depicted in paintings.

Snowbird – A snowbird is an individual who spends summers in Alaska and migrates south for the winter.

Sourdough – Long-time Alaskans are called a Sourdough.

Snowmachine – Alaskans refer to their snowmobiles, Arctic Cats and Ski-Doos as snowmachines. Snowmachiners utilize these small motorized vehicles with runners and a continuous track for both recreation and a valid form of transportation to remote areas of the state.

Subsistence – The practice of harvesting resources from nature for food, shelter, cultural or other personal needs. Many Alaska Native people still live a subsistence lifestyle.

Termination dust - The first snowfall that sticks on the tops of the mountains each year, which signifies that winter is on its way. Originally a gold rush term signaling the end of the prospecting season, it now gives low-land residents warning that snow will be falling in about a month.

Ulu - The Alaska Native people of northern Alaska invented this knife centuries ago. It is used for hunting, fishing, skinning, filleting and every other imaginable domestic cutting need by the Eskimo people. Nowadays, replicas can be purchased at any souvenir shop in Alaska.

“The mountain is out” – Expression referring to Denali (Mount McKinley), which is visible only 20 percent of the time in summer. "Out" means the veil of clouds that often sits on the mountain has lifted ... for a moment.