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Alaska Slang: Speaking Like an Old Sourdough

Updated on January 24, 2013

Introduction to Alaska Slang

Have you ever wanted to visit Alaska?  While Alaska slang might not be nearly as disorienting to someone from the Lower 48 as Aussie English, as a former Cheechako whose become an old Sourdough going outside, I'm guessing most of you have no idea what the heck I was just talking about.  I often tell people that going to Alaska isn't like visiting another state, it's like visiting another country with a somewhat familiar culture...kind of.  And this includes their own slang.  There's no quicker way to label yourself as a tourist than to give a blank stare at common slang, or in the way you don't use common slang that has all but replaced the "proper English" way of saying things.  And please, for the love of God and everyone Alaskan, there is no Mount McKinley.  Please don't call it that. Denali.  The mountain's name is Denali.  Just like the park.  Denali.  That's lesson number one for learning Alaskan slang.

Pictures of Alaska by Thomas Shover or Myself

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This was during the summer of 2004 - worst wildfires ever.
This was during the summer of 2004 - worst wildfires ever.
This was during the summer of 2004 - worst wildfires ever.

Alaska Stuff from Amazon

People Slang

Alaska slang referring to various people or groups of people.

Cheechako - Someone who is new to Alaska. First winter romances that result in a spring breakup are often referred to as "Cheechako Love."

Sourdough - An old hand; someone who has been around Alaska.

Bear Insurance (option #2) - Someone in the group who is slower (and usually fatter) than you are.

Ditch Divers - Cheechakos who learn the hard way that 4 wheel drive doesn't let you drive fast on snow and ice.

Mushers - People who get around on dog sleds.

Incredible Video - But R Rated Language

Place Slang

Alaskan slang for various places that you will hear used fairly frequently.

Denali - This really isn't slang. Mount McKinley's native name, and the ONLY one anyone in Alaska uses, is Denali.

The Lower 48 - Anyone living in the Lower 48 states. And no, there's no special name for Hawaii.

Going Outside - Leaving the state of Alaska.

Borough - County

The Bush - Any part of the state of Alaska that you can only reach by boat or plane. Which is literally about 98 to 99% of the state.

The Interior - Central Alaska.  Generally anything north of Anchorage, although for some people it's anything north of Denali.

Seattle Junior - Anchorage.  Probably shouldn't use that one in Anchorage unless you're looking for a Bar Fight.

The Kenai - Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage.

Fairbanks - Where I Lived for Years

Not Slang, But Local Terms

Permafrost - Permanantly frozen ground about two to five feet underground.

Dividend Fund or PDF or Permanent Fund - The annual check every Alaskan gets as their share of the profit from oil companies.

Mukluk - Very warm boots, about knee high.

Cabin Fever - A huge problem in the winters, especially in the Interior.

Dip Netting - A long net used for catching fish in the river.

Two Seasons in Alaska

There are only two seasons in Alaska, we all agree on that, the problem is we all argue over what the second one is...

Winter and Road Construction

Winter and Daylight

Winter and Mosquitoes

Winter and Almost Winter

Winter (explicative laced tirade - 'why didn't I leave in summer when I had the chance') and Summer ('this place is heaven, why would anyone want to live anywhere else?') = oddly enough, these conversations repeat themselves year after year in a never ending cycle.

Winter and Fishing

Winter and Tourists

Other Alaska Slang

And here's a whole mix of Alaska slang that you're likely to hear if you spend time hanging out with locals for any amount of time.

Bear Insurance (#1) - Any gun .357 Magnum or higher. Usually a .357. .44 Magnum, or 12 gauge shotgun.

Tin Dog - Snowmobile

Break Up - When the ice on the river finally begins to break, indicating spring's coming.

Spenard Divorce - A loud and messy style of divorce (sometimes fatal) made famous in the Spenard area of Anchorage. Always involves a gun.

Three Dog Night - When it's so cold three dogs huddled together can't keep you warm enough.

Seasonal Partner (limited use) - Interior practice of finding a boy and/or girl friend to help keep you sane during winter, with the mutual understanding of breaking up as soon as spring and the sun come back.

Comments on Alaska Slang?

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    • FGual profile image

      FGual 6 years ago from USA

      Thank you for this tale of life in Alaska that was unknown to me. I hope to visit someday, and often wonder how people can handle the winter cabin fever. Wasn't Three Dog Night the name of a rock band back in the sixties or 70s?

    • Jerry G2 profile image

      Jerry G2 6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, IA

      Hi FGual,

      Glad you liked it! Three Dog Night was the name of a rock band, and that slang is actually where the name of the band comes from. I don't believe the slang is originally from Alaska, I think it's from a desert culture (deserts can get ridiculously cold at night), but I could be wrong on that. The cabin fever is the worse. It's not even the cold that gets you - you can get really used to and even comfortable in 40 degrees below zero, but the lack of light in the Interior is just a killer. UV or "Happy" lights are a must have.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for your wonderful hub. about a world which remote and yet so interesting and fascinating.

    • NCBIer profile image

      NCBIer 6 years ago

      Good hub! Brings back some good memories, having grown up in the interior. Another one might be snowmachine. People in the states don’t seem to know it’s the same as snowmobile. Most think it is something that makes snow.

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