LEARN TO SPEAK ALASKAN
Alaska is unique in every way – it even has its own vocabulary. We offer you a guide to some of the words and phrases, ancient and recent, known only to those who inhabit Alaska. Study these terms and you just might convince the locals that you are a true sourdough.
Outside: Anywhere outside Alaska but generally means the continental 48 states. When a local goes on vacation, they are headed “outside”.
Eskimo Ice Cream: The fat of a Seal or Caribou is whipped to a creamy texture and mixed with chopped meat or berries. Yummy.
Muktuk: An Eskimo delicacy consisting of the skin and attached layer of whale blubber. It can be eaten dried or cooked, but usually prepared raw.
Muskeg: Swamp or bog composed of layers of decomposing plant life. Often found in tundra regions.
Termination Dust: The construction workers during the building boom in the 1940’s called the snowfall each year termination dust because it meant the end of their jobs would be terminated for the season. Now, it is used to refer to the first snowfall signaling the end of the summer season.
Cheechako: The Alaskan term for someone who is new to the country. A “tenderfoot” “green horn”.
Denali: Literally, means the “High One” or the “Great One” , Denali is the name given to the massive peak also known as Mt. McKinley, by the Athabascan Native People. Congress officially changed the name of Mt. McKinley National Park to Denali National Park in the Alaskan Lands Act in 1980.
Sourdough: The name originally came from the Gold Rush of 1898 era when prospectors and other wanderers carried a lump of fermented starter dough for making bread in pouch around their neck. The fermented dough was kept close the body, to stay warm. A sourdough pouch hanging around a miner’s neck was a clear sign of experience in survival. So, the term came to be associated with an old timer or someone who has been in the north country a long time.
Lower 48: Alaskans refer to the continental United States as the lower 48.
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 salmon fisherman.
Tundra: The word comes from the Finnish word meaning barren or treeless land. Most of the Tundra exist on the planet exist in the Northern Hemisphere in a belt along the Arctic Ocean.
Mukluks: Mukluks are a soft boot made of caribou or sealskin and typically worn by the Eskimo.
Noseeums: Tiny winged insects (a form of small gnat) that is nearly invisible. The bug packs a nasty bite slightly less bothersome than a bear chewing your leg off.
Bunny Boots: Also known as Mukluks, a soft boot made of reindeer or sealskin.
Iditarod: Known as the “The Last Great Race on Earth”. From Anchorage, in south central Alaska, to Nome on the western Bering Sea coast, each team of 12 to 16 dogs and their musher cover over 1150 miles in 10 to 17 days.
Ice fog: Is what occurs when water vapor meets bitter cold air that can’t hold any more water in 10 seconds or less. Water cooled that fast forms tiny ice particles. Collectively, millions of these particles take form as ice fog, the cotton candy-like clouds that hang over our roads.
Break up: The spring melting season is a season unto itself. The rivers thaw and begin to flow again, carrying huge chunks of ice down river. Breakup is followed by days of celebration as Alaskan’s emerge from long, long winter nights.
Aurora Borealis: The official term for northern lights, which are visible for more than half the year in the far north. The University of Alaska Fairbanks houses a research center dedicated to studying the phenomenon which is caused by magnetic particles from the sun as they hit the earth’s atmosphere.
Permanent Fund: A state savings account created by constitutional amendment that requires at least 25% of Alaska’s royalties from oil to be set aside, with only the interest earnings available for spending. Permanent residents receive a yearly dividend check.
Mushing: Is the game of sled dog racing.
Cache: A small shed-like building on stilts where furriers and hunters kept their goods.
Alcan: The Alaska Highway, also “Alaska-Canadian Highway”, “Al-Can Highway”, runs form Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska via Whitehorse, Yukon. It is 1,523 miles or 2,451 kilometers long.
Blanket toss: The blanket toss is now conducted as entertainment, but it didn’t originate that way. The Inupiaq hunter would be tossed in the air, enabling them to see across the horizon to hunt game. Now thirty or more Inupiaq gather in a circle, holding the edges of a large skin made from walrus hides, and toss someone into the air as high as possible. The person being tossed throws gifts into the crowd and loses their turn when they lose their balance. The object: to maintain balance and return to the blanket without falling over. This is one of many games played during the course of a 10-day celebration.
Totems: Totem poles are known as silent storytellers, depicting figures that were relevant to a specific Native tribe.
Ulu: The 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 Inuit (Eskimo) people. Nowadays, replicas can be purchased at any souvenir shop in Alaska.
Ice worms: Ice worms are real. They live in pools of water and crawl around between ice crystals near the glacier surface. Ice worms have been observed to move around in the ice at depths near two meters. Even in the Alaska Range, the glacial ice at that depth can remain near freezing and so can provide at least a marginal ice worm habitat.