A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P R S T U W
Glossary of sensible Antarctic words A - H | I - Z
Like any other close-knit or isolated group Antarctic communities develop their own sub culture with their own slang words and phrases. This list is far from exhaustive, inclusion here is my purely subjective view as to whether the word or phrase is worthy of note, because of how frequently it is used or how amusing I find it.
Where possible I have attributed a nationality to the word Am - American / Aus - Australian / Br - British / NZ - New Zealand. Where no nationality is attributed it is because I'm not sure, some words are specific to a particular country, others are more widely used.
I've had many words with definitions kindly sent to me since this page first went up, if there are any omissions that you know about, please the details. The nationality of origin and years/s when you heard it used would be useful too - ta.
Antarctic Dictionary: A Complete Guide to Antarctic English
A - factor - The Antarctic factor, unexpected extra difficulties presented by Antarctica. Aus
Airdrop - Cargo and personal items dropped from an airplane, a huge morale booster for winterovers. Am
Are You Ready - a call to a dog team to get it ready to haul. Br
Antarctic 10 - A person of the opposite sex who might be considered a "5" elsewhere. Am
Bagdrag - McMurdo base - US, dragging your bag - luggage - to weigh in for for a flight out. Due to weather conditions a bagdrag is not always followed by a flight and in any case will rarely take place at a convenient time for the dragger of the bag. Am
Banana Belt - The South Orkney Islands and South Georgia where there have been British bases for many years. As these bases are in the maritime Antarctic and not very far South by comparison to some others, they are referred to by inhabitants of other stations as being in the "Banana Belt" - still very chilly, icy and windy though. Br
Beaker - A scientist, if said scientist is unwanted or unpopular, the term jafa, may be used - Just Another F..... Academic; Am, Aus, Br, NZ
Big eye - Insomnia caused by changes in the length of daylight. Aus
Bog chisel - An implement with a wooden handle like a long broom about 5-6 feet long and with a metal chisel-shaped blade about 2 inches wide at the end of it - blunt by usual chisel standards. Used as a snow and ice probe to test sea-ice - more than three thwacks to get through and it's safe to walk on, less than three and it's time to walk back where you came from - very carefully. Also used as a crevasse probe. Br
Bolo - Burnt-out-left-over an expeditioner who has been in the Antarctic for too long. Aus.
Boomerang - A flight to Antarctica that turns back before it gets there, usually due to poor weather conditions at the landing site. Am.
Boot - to be 'boot' is to have a monk-on, fed up, down in the dumps, being in a bad, usually introspective mood, "I'm feeling a bit boot today". Br
Brew-up - Make tea. Br.
Bronzy - Sun burned. Br.
Bunny Boots - Boots for extremely cold weather, large, white and plain, but effective, the name comes from a layer of rabbit fur that's supposed to be part of the insulation (actually wool felt). Am
Chewers - Dogs who chew rope's centre and side traces. Br.
Chomp - to chew through rope's centre and side traces. Br.
ChCh - (pronounced Cheech), slang for Christchurch, New Zealand, a stopping off and kitting up point for US Antarctic programme personnel en route for Antarctica. Am
Chinese Landing - A phonetic pun, based on the unusual aircraft angle when landing in stiff Antarctic cross winds: one-wing-low. Am
Ching - (adj) Chinged (vb) a Dear John letter from the girlfriend. Br
Ching Club - a special club for those who have been chinged. Br
City Mice - Support personnel whose duties force them to remain at McMurdo Station. Am
Connie Onnie - condensed milk. Br.
Country Mice - Scientists and their assistants who get to travel to camps around Antarctica. Am
Crawlies - Blowing snow at ground level that snakes along being very atmospheric. Snow blows around in Antarctica far more than it falls from the sky, the low temperatures means that it stays powdery and loose and ever present winds move it back and forth a lot.
Crud, the - Common name for colds / flu contracted by new arrivals to the US McMurdo base. Most common with a large entry of new people bringing a large influx of fresh germs. Any germ-related illnesses in Antarctica are rare in the winter as the base personnel have either had the illnesses by then or are immune to them. The longest continuous period of my life free of colds and flu was when I was in Antarctica. Am.
Dear John - A letter from a girlfriend left behind informing the recipient he is now (at his choice) not only thousands of miles and many months away (at least) but also now surplus to emotional requirements. Br
Degomble - Being outside in Antarctica in wind-driven snow makes a lot of the snow stick to your clothes and in nooks and crannies around back-pack etc. De-gombling is the process of removing this loosely attached snow before going indoors into a hut, base-building or tent where it would melt and make life more unpleasant.
Originated with dogs in the days when they were used to pull sledges, in certain conditions, snow could form into balls (gombles) that hung from the dogs fur, making them heavy and uncomfortable. Br.
Delta Surfing - Standing on top of a Delta on the trip between Willy Field and the Ice Runway. Am
Dingle - Good weather, on a dingle day it's time to get your boots on and go out to play - or excellent visibility. Br.
Doglet - a pup. Br.
Dome - An aluminium Geodesic dome, 50 meters (165 ft) in diameter at the base and approximately 17 meters high (55 ft) at the top at the American Scott-Amundsen base at the South Pole. Looks a bit like an ice-age EPCOT. The South Pole base was established in the 1950's and was seen as a great status symbol location for a base. That being the cold war, the Russians then followed it up by establishing their status symbol base at the pole of inaccessibility - the point on Antarctica the furthest from any ocean - the Vostok base. The dome is now now long gone having been dismantled and removed during the 2009-2010 season. Am
Dome Slugs - Those who lived and worked in the central Dome at the south polar station. Am
Donga - Sleeping area. Aus
Donkey's Dick - A piece of hard rubber pipe used to provide ventilation from the top of a pyramid tent, the name coming from the size and rather rude way in which it drooped, though this being part of the design as it was less likely to get blocked with snow this way. Br.
Doo - Short for skidoo, the brand name of a snow mobile made by Bombardier of Canada. Small robust and very effective small-scale transport over snow and ice, like a motor-bike on skis. Can be used to transport the driver and one other sitting down or much bigger loads towed along behind on a sledge. Br.
ECW - Extreme Cold Weather. A label applied to protective clothing issued to American base members, includes parkas, bunny boots, bear claws (large mittens), balaclavas etc. Am
Ekkies / Ekties - Ektachrome transparencies, 35mm slide film produced by Kodak, that could be developed on base so you could see your pictures quickly rather than waiting for months to send them back home to be developed and then sent back again to the Antarctic. Br.
Ektacrud - Lousy Ektachrome transparencies, most probably the result of a poor processing technique. Br.
Episched - Exhausted, finished, dead beat, done for, knackered. Br.
Epital - Report, written account. Br.
FIDS - "Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey" was the original name for the "British Antarctic Survey" (BAS). Members of FIDS referred to themselves as Fids and the name stuck. It is usually taken as meaning someone who has travelled to Antarctica and worked on a FIDS or BAS ship or base. Some purists maintain that it should only apply to those who have wintered on such a base. Br.
Fidlet - A Fid in his or her first year, sometimes considered as someone in their first summer south preceding the first winter after which they will be a Fid proper. Br.
Fidgob - Any job that is "gobbed" together using materials available at the time by a Fid. Not usually a very elegant solution due the improper materials and / or tools and / or lack of expertise of the Fid concerned. Antarctica does, has always and probably always will, run on the equivalent of Fidgob solutions to broken or missing apparatus and machinery. Br.
Field, The - Anywhere not on a base. Scientists in particular like to talk about being "out in the field" - it makes them sound more rugged and heroic.
First Call - The first visit of the season to a base by a ship. An eagerly awaited event by winterers as it brings mail, fresh food, new people, cargo, shopping they've ordered and almost a new way of life as the summer now starts. Br
Fingy - The pronunciation of F.N.G.. A derogatory term of uncertain origin for the F... New Guy (or Girl). Originally used in Vietnam to describe a solider on their first tour of duty. Am, Aus, Br, NZ
Five hundred club - Those who have been in Antarctica for more than 500 successive days. Aus
Flakers - asleep. Br.
Freshies - Fresh fruit and vegetables brought in by air or ship. Food is a perennial topic of conversation at all Antarctic bases, most of the year the food has been preserved in some way. The arrival of fresh produce is an event of great importance especially at the end of the winter when exotic delights like boiled potatoes and carrots taste like you'd never believe that they could. Am.
Gash - A Naval term that has two meanings, firstly it means rubbish / garbage anything to be disposed of and secondly it describes a task or event. Many bases have a gash-rota whereby each member in turn is gashman for the day. This means that they help in the kitchen with menial tasks, wash-up, deal with the gash - rubbish/garbage and generally carry out various base house-keeping duties (similar to Aus. "slushy"). Br.
Gomble - An accretion of snow on hair. This is usually facial hair or the hair on a dog in the days when they were used to pull sledges. In certain conditions, snow could form into balls (gombles) that hung from the hair or dogs fur, making them heavy and uncomfortable. (see degomble) Br.
Gonk - sleep Br.
Greenout - The emotion felt on seeing and smelling green things (plants) again after an extended period on the ice.
Grips - Photographs, "getting the grips in" is an Antarctic occupation that can be taken to extremes. Particular incidents and occurrences can only be legitimately claimed to have happened once the grips had been got in. Many short lived events can be expanded enormously in time while everyone gets the grips that they want with them, them + best mate, them + best and second best mate, the event from a high vantage point, the event from the other side, etc. etc. Br.
This eventually progressed to videoing everything, I was pleasantly surprised to come across this, part of a great and noble tradition.
Grumble Bucket - Coffee/tea cup. Br
"Haul Away" - A sledger's encouraging call to his team as they haul. Br.
Helo - Helicopter. Am.
Herbie - The name given to particularly powerful and dangerous storms that affect the US McMurdo base coming from the South, through "Herbie Alley", winds can be in excess of 100 knots. The event can also be described as "A case of the Herbies", Herbies mean no flights.. Am
Hollywood Shower - A naval term, derisively used to describe showers of longer than the allotted two minutes (fresh water in liquid form is relatively rare in Antarctica) Am.
Hooley - a very strong wing, stronger than a blow. Br.
Hoardes - Stashes of nutty (mainly chocolate bars) to keep it from the hordes. Br.
Hoosh - a dish similar to scradge, a sledger's wholesome meal, with few or many ingredients as available. Originally a stew made of pemmican or meat bar thickened with crumbled up sledging biscuits. Br.
Hordes - The less than welcome newbies who arrive in the summer months, consisting of both Fidlets (winterers to be in their first summer) and SJMs (Summer Jolly Merchants). Br.
House Mice - Personnel on periodic janitorial duty. Am
Ice, The - A common nickname for Antarctica. Being in Antarctica is referred to as being "On The Ice". Am.
Ice-wife / Ice-husband - a relationship conducted on the ice only just for the season, even if one or both parties are otherwise spoken for. No-one mentions it or tells anyone back home. Am.
Jennies Roost - A hut at Stonnington, previously occupied by Jennie Darlington, one of the first two women to overwinter in Antarctica the other was Edith Ronne in winter 1947. Br.
Jolly - A pleasure trip, can be used derisively "jolly merchant" for someone who always manages to get to go on the interesting trips (despite the title I never came across one who would sell places on jollies). Summer only personnel may sometimes be referred to by winterers as "on a summer jolly". While the term can applied to almost anywhere in the world, it is particularly apt for Antarctica, the whole point of going there for most people is to get out and see the continent which varies from very to ridiculously spectacular, so even if the work on the jolly is hard and laborious, it's still well worth going. Br.
Klatch - Personal belongings Br.
Last Call - The last visit of the season to a base by a ship. The departure of last call takes with it people who have been in Antarctica for up to 30 months and heralds the start of winter for those who remain with no physical contact with the outside world for up to 11 months depending on where the base is. A time of excitement tinged with trepidation. Br
Lurker - That unknown something found at the bottom of an un-washed grumble bucket (coffee/tea cup). Br
Lurky - Something a bit dodgy, I always imagined it as being something that was lurking about and probably up to no good - "That's a lurky looking bergy-bit offshore by the mooring". Br
Manhaul - A sledging trip where the sledge is pulled by men rather than vehicles. Br, Aus.
Mactown - A nickname for the US base at McMurdo. Others are McMudhole and Dirt Town because of the dark gritty volcanic ground there that is exposed in the summer. Am
Mank, manky - Overcast weather, particularly common in the Maritime Antarctic Br.
Mainbody - One of the three seasons of the American Antarctic year. At McMurdo for instance, it lasts from approx. 1st of October until the last flight at Station Close, around late February or early March. Seasonality in Antarctica is timed by events as much as the calendar and seasons are not reckoned to be over or begun until events such as the first or last ship or flight of a particular season has happened. Am.
McDonald's - the hut at the ice runway where food was delivered from MacTown for the people working at the ice runway. Am
Medevac - A contraction of "medical evacuation" - a special flight out for someone before their tour is over as a result of illness or injury, a very rare occurrence. Am, Aus, Br, NZ
Monk-on - A term for being in a bad, usually introspective mood, "He's got a monk-on". Br
Mukluks - Inuit style cold weather boots. Soft outer, pale cream in colour with a very thick sole and a wool felt liner, very effective as long as you don't try to do any climbing or walking over uneven surfaces in them. Am, Aus, Br
Munch - Dried meat granules a common part of the winter diet in the absence of fresh meat, also used by field parties as water can be added by melting snow or ice. Br.
Mutt - American sheathbill, a small Antarctic bird the size of a rounder pigeon with disgusting table manners and thought by some to have been overlooked by evolution. Evidence of the first point is that in the days when waste matter was flushed into the sea, some thought that Mutts could hear the sound of the flush and take position at the kaka-pipe (it wasn't really called the kaka-pipe). Some claim to have seen them wearing a paper necklace originating from the same place. Evidence of the second is that in winter some would come into land on a slatted jetty and only put down one leg to save heat loss, the result is that the one leg would go between the gaps in the slats, much laughter all round. Br
Nutty (original meaning) - "The dog food we carried and used in the field came in compressed blocks of meat and fat weighing about 1lb per block (I think) and in boxes weighing 70 lbs each which would last one team (9 dogs) for 5 days. It's trade name was Nutrican (made by Bob Martins) which was abbreviated to Nutty by the dog drivers." (Thanks to Drummy Small for this). Br
Nutty (alt) - The general term for any type of chocolate or sweets / candy, whether it contains nuts or not. A personal note here, when I first arrived in Antarctica I was most unimpressed with the unhealthiness of the food that people took out with them when leaving base for a day trip - one to three bars of chocolate and nothing else. Being of sterner stuff I promptly made myself some healthier sandwiches (tuna and mayonnaise if I remember rightly) - I was observed with interest but without comment by other (wiser) people around. Come lunch break, while others tucked into their hard but edible "nutty" I sat and sucked on a frozen sandwich. Br
OAE - Old Antarctic Explorer. Someone who's been around in Antarctica for a while, several summers, or at least a winter, the more the better of course. Wintering at the south polar station confers automatic OAE status. Am
Offensive potatoes - tinned potatoes. Br.
Oggin / Ogg - The sea. Br.
Packing - The traditional right of passage from FNG to OAE, a form of hazing. It was accomplished typically in this order, FNG got drunk, a mob of OAE's stripped FNG naked, then threw FNG into a pre-dug ice hole. The OAE's covered the FNG in Snow and if done properly poured beer on the FNG. FNG became OAE, other OAE's bought them drinks the rest of the night. Am maybe NZ
PAX - Passengers. Am
Pit / pitroom - Bed / bedroom. Br.
Poppy - Alcoholic beverage that is chilled with natural Antarctic ice. Hundreds of thousands of years of pressure captured bubbles of air that, when warmed with Glenfiddich (or other inebriant of choice), pop and crack in the glass. Due to the extremely low humidity of the region, hangovers induced from poppys were particularly onerous and it wasn't uncommon for someone to say, "Had too many poppys last night.". Am
PSR - Point of Safe Return. Applied to aircraft flying to Antarctica, the furthest the plane can go and still return to its origin. Some aircraft that fly to the American McMurdo base can fly all the way and then back to the take off point in Christchurch, New Zealand without landing. In this case the PSR is actually McMurdo itself and on occasion due to extreme weather conditions, planes have flown all the way there and then gone back again without landing. Am.
Pushtin - A smaller version of the U-drum for use while camping when a hooley blowing outside made the thought of venturing outside less attractive than using the tin in a confined space.
Puzzle Palace - the administration building for US Naval forces in Antarctica prior to turning the mission over to the Air Force. Am
Race around the World - A popular race around the south pole marker on December the 25th. Am
Sawdust - Dehydrated cabbage Br
Scradge - Food, Br.
Scrubout - A weekly occurrence on some bases where at a regular time (after dinner on a Friday is popular) everyone sets to to clean the base up being allotted a different place to clean by weekly rota. Br.
Seal chop - fids chopping up dead seals for dog food (this hasn't happened since 1994 when dogs were removed from Antarctica).Br.
Seal feed - two men, one team, feeding all dogs with pieces of seal. Br.
Sealy kit - old greasy clothes worn during seal feed. Br.
Skua - to appropriate goods by means that are not quite stealing, but also not quite not-stealing. Named after Antarctic skuas that hang out near the galley in McMurdo. - Am
Slack - Something badly done, often applied to gash - "slack gash" is a withering admonishment and difficult to live down. Br
Slot - crevasse. Where a glacier goes over a bump in the underlying bedrock, it cracks from the top (widest point) pretty much all the way to the bottom, this is a crevasse.
Slotted - Something that happens if you fall into a crevasse, an almost ubiquitous hazard in Antarctica as the wind-blown snow often covers up these tapering cracks in the ice with a snow bridge that can easily be 50ft+ (over 16m) wide. The weakest part of the snow bridge is going to be the middle of course. Falling into a crevasse without a rope to stop you is a particularly unpleasant way to go. There's a deep enough fall for you to pick up a fair speed before you get wedged into the narrowing space at the bottom (known as "corking in"). Assuming you don't crack your head on the way down and are still alive, you will become aware of being held by your pelvis or ribcage that may well have been broken in the process. You now have to get out while firmly wedged and in some considerable pain. If not roped up you will be dependent on whoever is on the surface, so hope they've a long enough rope. To make matters worse it will probably be pitch black or at least very dim and if it's summer there's a possibility that the bottom of the crevasse may even contain very cold meltwater. I worried a lot about falling in crevasses. Am, Aus, Br, NZ
Vehicles can also become slotted.
Slushy - A sort of kitchen helper/hand for the day performed by base members on a "slushy rota". Aus - similar to Br. gash rota and gashman.
Smoko - Coffee or tea break, a Naval term. Smoko is a bit more of an event than just stopping work for a break, the whole base pretty much would go to the dining room and drink / chat / eat and smoke too in the days when it was almost compulsory. Br.
Snotsicle - An icicle of frozen mucus hanging from the nose of the owner, once they start to form, they cause the nose to run so speeding up the growth. Aus.
South - Antarctica. Usually referred to in the form "going south", "been south", "went south", "down south" etc. Br
Span [n] - a wire cable, anchored at each end, used to fasten dogs to to stop them wandering off and/or fighting. Br
Span, to - to put dogs on a span after a journey. Br
Spanned [v] - dogs have been spanned, put on a span - after a journey. Br
Splode - anything that you can't remember the name for: pass the splode will you? - There's a skua sitting on the splode! - Anyone seen my splode? Br
Springer - A summer worker who arrives before the main hordes. Br
Super Pooper (or Super Sh_tter) - depending on company - this was the outhouse at the ice runway, a wooden latrine with a toilet seat set over a hole drilled in the ice. Am
Three-hundred-club - To belong, you need to go through 300 degrees Fahrenheit, this is achieved by heating up in a sauna before going outside. Due to the large temperature difference required it is only possible on a few extremely cold days in the winter in deep south stations such as at the South Pole. Membership used to require rolling around (briefly) in the snow outside, though this seems not to be the case any more, instead a slow run round the world (the south pole marker) happens instead. Did I say you have to be naked to do this? You have to be naked to do this. Am
Thrutch - difficulty, usually applied to progress through deep or poor snow conditions. "the last bit was a real thrutch". Br
Them - half of fids on base who daily cut snow blocks for water. Br
Thumper - used to punish disobedient or fighting dogs. Br
Transition Ramp - the many railroad ties that linked MacTown with the sea ice going to the Ice Runway. (unknown)
Transantarctics - The Transantarctic mountain range that stretches across the middle of the continent, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. Am
Turdcicle / Turdicle - The result of toilet facilities in very cold conditions. Br - esp Halley base.
U-barrel - A 55 gallon drum used for the collection of urine in places that lack plumbing. U-Barrels are painted bright yellow. Used as the basis of a toilet of various degrees of primitiveness. Most countries remove all their waste from Antarctica these days so as not to degrade the environment. As 55 gallon barrels are used to bring in all kinds of fuels, they are an ideal way of taking all the waste out again and find use for all manner of purposes as well as for the traditional one of cutting them in half and making a barbecue. Am.
"Up Dogs, Huit" - A sledgers call to his team to Haul. After, "Are You Ready Dogs?". Br
Ungone - When leaving Antarctica, the day prior to departure is spent saying heart felt last farewells and promises to stay in touch or send marvelous unattainables back by post. Not uncommonly the flight out is delayed and the departee returns back to base where they see those people they said their solemn goodbyes to once again, far sooner than expected. Such people are referred to as the "ungone" Am - McMurdo
Us - See Them the other half. Br
Weather Guesser - A meteorologist. Am
Windy / windies - Name for the ventile windproof jacket and over trousers issued to members of the British Antarctic Survey. Apparently old fashioned and low tech, but remarkably practical and much loved by generations of Fids. Shock-horror! I discover after a visit to BAS Cambridge in 2010 that they are now no longer issued as they are too expensive. Br.
Winterovers - Any one who stays on an Antarctic base for the whole of the winter. Am.
Wodderyereckon? - should we travel? Br.
WTFO - "What the F--- over". A greeting as in "Hello how is it going?" McMurdo and ice shelf station Summer 65, 66 with VX 6 (Navy Squadron) for air delivery of materials from McMurdo and any field support. Also the call sign of the radio station. Am
Antarctic Dictionary: A Complete Guide to Antarctic English