Q. I have a penpal from Alaska. Sometimes she uses words whose meaning I don’t know. I hate to always be asking her what she means. Don’t you guys speak English up there? (just kidding) -Chloe
A. C’mon Chloe…surely you jest. Of course we speak English up here. But so you won’t sound like such a cheechako (newcomer) to your friend and so that you can sound like a sourdough (old timer here), I’ll clue you in on a few words that might help. By the way, would you like to hear how you become a sourdough? I was told on first arriving that you have to do 3 things. You must kill a bear, pee in the Yukon and sleep with a native! Well, I’ve done one of the three. I’ll leave you to figure out which one. =;o)
Break Up – It marks the end of winter and beginning of spring. It is usually very messy with mud everywhere and ice breaking
apart on the rivers and creeks and floating off downstream. Generally speaking, Alaskans automatically take off
their shoes in your entry way. We get used to doing that during breakup to save the floors from mud and it just sort
of goes on all year. First time I visited outside after being up here for years, I slid my shoes off at a friends door and
she looked at me like I was crazy and said,” WHAT are you doing?!”
Outside – Since I used that word in the definition above, I’ll explain. It means any state other than Alaska. You might hear the
phrase, “He’s from Outside” So anyplace in the lower 48 is ‘outside’.
Denali – It’s what most Alaskans call Mt. McKinley. The word means ‘the Great One’ in Alaska Native language.
Fireweed – The magenta colored perennial herb which blooms in late summer. It grows along most roadsides, and quickly
springs up anywhere there has ever been a fire. Maybe God’s way of bringing beauty from ashes? When the fireweed
blooms it begins a countdown to winter. In fact, it blooms from the bottom up, and when the bloom reaches the
top of the flower spike, the natives say that it will be 6 weeks until snow is on the ground to stay. Surprisingly, it
seems to work out that way most years.
The PAC – Refers to the Performing Arts Center in Anchorage which is host to all kinds of cultural events such as Opera, Ballet,
Plays and other dress up events. They have a wonderful display of the northern lights in the summertime too, so
visitors to our state can enjoy them even though it it too light outside to see them,
Termination Dust – If you are around in early fall you might see it. It is the light dusting of new snow along our mountain tops
signaling the termination of summer!
Southeast – The area of Alaska between the Gulf of Alaska and the Alaska Range. Included are Anchorage, Mat-Su Valley,
Kodiak, Valdez and all of the Kenai Peninsula.
Sleeping Lady – That’s what we call Mt. Susitna, which is visible across Cook Inlet from Anchorage, There is a native story about
it. I think something about an Indian maiden lying down to sleep when her lover went hunting. He was killed, never
coming back (of course. Duuhhhh!) and so she still lies there sleeping and waiting. The shape of it is indeed like a lovely
maiden lying down.
Bunny Boots – Those big oafy white rubber (usually) boots that have a layer of air surrounding your foot. They are big and
clunky looking, but warm enough to keep your toes toasty at even 50 below zero. No kidding. I have even seen them
worn with a suit and tie, which looked downright odd to say the least. But I knew that the guy had warm toes!
Down in America – Sometimes you will hear someone say they took a vacation to “America”. They just mean “outside” or to the
lower 48. Sometimes it really does feel like we live east of the sun and west of the moon.
I’ll try to think of some more words and phrases unique to Alaska for later down the trail. -BJ