Alaskans have some pretty unusual terminology that can be confusing to the untrained ear. So we thought we'd put together a list of terms that may be helpful when talking to an Alaskan or writing about Anchorage and the state of Alaska. Who knows? You may even pass as a local.
Do you have other suggested additions? Please comment at the bottom.
ALCAN – Short for the Alaska/Canada Highway, this famed highway runs through Canada and connects Alaska with the Lower 48. The 1,523-mile highway (2,451 kilometers) was completed in 1943 and runs from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Delta Junction, Alaska, via Whitehorse, Yukon.
Alyeska (al-lee-YES-ka) – This Aleut word meaning “Great Land” or “Main Land” is also the name of Alaska’s largest ski resort located 40 miles south of Anchorage in the town of Girdwood. Mount Alyeska is 3,939 feet tall. Others may be familiar with the word in conjunction with Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, which operates and maintains the Trans Alaska Pipeline System.
The Bush – Typically refers to places in Alaska not accessible by the road system, which encompasses a large portion of the state. Most parts of Alaska that are off the road system can only be reached by small airplane or through alternative means of transportation such as snowmobile or snowmachine, boat or dog sled.
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.
Chugiak (Chew-gee-ack) – Located approximately a 20-minute drive north of Anchorage, this community is named for the Dena’ina word meaning “place of many things.”
Cook Inlet – The Cook Inlet region includes the most densely populated part of Alaska and Anchorage is located at the head of Cook Inlet and it stretches 180 miles (290 km) to the Gulf of Alaska. Cook Inlet branches into the Knik Arm and Turnagain Arm at its northern end, almost surrounding Anchorage.
Dena’ina (Den-eye-een-ah) – The Dena’ina are Alaska Native people and the original inhabitants of the Southcentral Alaska region. The Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center is named after the Dena’ina people.
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. Congress officially changed the name of Mount McKinley National Park to Denali National Park in the Alaska Lands Act of 1980.
Eklutna (ee-KLOOT-nuh) – This is a Dena’ina Athabascan village within the Municipality of Anchorage with a population of about 70 people. It is the oldest inhabited location in the Anchorage area.
Flattop – Flattop Mountain is a 3,510-foot mountain located in the Chugach State Park along the Anchorage hillside. The most climbed mountain in the state is easily reached by driving to the Glen Alps trailhead and following a well-maintained 1.5-mile (2.4-km) trail, with an elevation gain of 1280 feet (390 m) from the parking lot to the summit. Since it is the most accessible mountain to Anchorage, Flattop is a popular location for hiking, climbing, berry picking, paragliding, and backcountry skiing. Campouts are held on the summit at the summer and winter solstices. It is also known for its panoramic views of Anchorage and the surrounding area, including Denali, Mount Foraker, and Mount Spurr.
The Kenai (KEY-nigh) – This is also known as the Peninsula on second reference. The Kenai refers to the peninsula south of Anchorage bound by Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska. The city of Kenai is located where the world-famous Kenai River meets the Cook Inlet.
Lower 48 – Alaskans refer to the continental United States as the Lower 48 for all of the contiguous states excluding Alaska and Hawaii.
Marine Highway – The Alaska Marine Highway refers to the statewide ferry system, connecting remote villages throughout the inside passage as well as along the Aleutian Islands.
Mat-Su – This moniker is the shortened version of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The Mat-Su area includes Palmer, Wasilla, Big Lake and Willow. It is also known locally as “the Valley” when referring to the Mat-Su Valley.
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!
Outside – When someone is not in Alaska, they are referred to being Outside with a capital “O.” Alaskans often travel Outside for business or vacations.
PAC – Short for the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, Anchorage’s four-theatre complex which provides a place for Alaskans to enjoy music and dance performances, plays, operas and even Broadway musicals. The PAC was built in 1988.
Pioneer Home – The first Alaska Pioneer Home was established in 1913 to offer residential and nursing care for individuals at least 65 years old. Pioneer Home residents must have resided in Alaska continuously for at least one year. Pioneer Homes are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Palmer and Sitka.
Potter Marsh – Located at the southern end of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, Potter Marsh is one of the most accessible and scenic wildlife viewing areas in Alaska. Spruce, cottonwoods, and alders frame the north and east borders of the marsh. To the south, Turnagain Arm sweeps out to Cook Inlet. Bald eagles, water birds, and spawning salmon flourish here. A 1,550-foot boardwalk with interpretive signs provides access to the northern part of the marsh. A small highway pullout at the southern end of the marsh allows for viewing and photography from a vehicle. The boardwalk starts at the brown highway sign on the Seward Highway at mile 117.4, which is a 10-mile drive south from downtown Anchorage; the sign is just past the Rabbit Creek Road exit.
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.
Southcentral – The area of Alaska between the Gulf of Alaska and the Alaska Range. Included in Southcentral are Anchorage, the Mat-Su area, Kodiak, Valdez and all of the Kenai Peninsula. The “S” is always capitalized.
Southeast – Also called the "panhandle," this region of Alaska stretches from Icy Bay near Yakutat to Dixon Entrance at the U.S.-Canada border. Juneau, Haines, Sitka, Skagway and Ketchikan are in Southeast. The “S” is always capitalized.
Tundra – Traveling from Alaska's interior toward its northern or western coast is a dramatic transition, as boreal forests of spruce, birch, aspen and cottonwood disappear from the landscape. In place of forest, low shrubs, mosses, sedges and lichens blanket the mountainsides and valleys. In flat areas such as the coastal plains, the landscape is dotted with small lakes, or divided into strange geometric patterns. The country feels grand and limitless stretching to the horizons of the broad sky. This is Alaska's arctic tundra.
Turnagain Arm – Located just south of Anchorage, the Seward Highway hugs the dramatic shorelines of Turnagain Arm, arguably one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in America. Chugach State Park's 3,000-foot mountains jut up on the other side of the highway.
Yukon – This refers to Canada’s Yukon Territory just east of the Alaska boarder.
Yukon River – Runs 1,875 miles from Canada through Alaska to the Bering Sea. It’s the longest river in Alaska and fourth longest in North America. The river was the primary means of transportation during the Klondike Gold Rush.
Alaska Native – An Alaska Native is an Alaskan who is Athabascan or Tlingit Indian, Yup’ik or Inupiaq Eskimo or Aleut. “A” and “N” are always capitalized.
Cheechako – This is a newcomer to Alaska, and what in the west would have been called a "greenhorn."
Dena’ina (Den-eye-een-ah) – The Dena’ina Athabascans were the Alaska Native people who first populated this area of the state. The Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center was named to honor the rich culture of the Dena’ina people.
Hobo Jim – A local Alaska singer and songwriter famous for his songs about living in Alaska. In 1994, the Alaska state legislature and the governor named Hobo Jim Alaska’s State Balladeer.
Musher – A person who drives a dog sled team, either competitively or recreationally.
Native Alaskan – Refers to a person who was born in Alaska who may or may not be Alaska Native. The “N” is only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence.
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.
ADN – Refers to the Anchorage Daily News found online at www.adn.com.
ATV – an all-terrain vehicle used for recreation and a mode of transportation in rural parts of Alaska.
Aurora borealis – The official term for the magnificent northern lights that dance around the sky and come in an array of colors. 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. The best times of the year to view the Aurora Borealis is during the equinox, the months of March and September.
Beluga – These whales get their name from the Russian word for white and are known as “white whales,” although only the older whales are actually white. The Cook Inlet population of belugas is estimated to number 400 to 500 animals. Belugas can be spotted in the Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage along the scenic Seward Highway.
Break-up boots or Xtra-Tuffs (brand name) – Rubber boots worn during the spring or break-up season when the snow melts. The Xtra-Tuff brand – that has become somewhat of a fashion trend – is a necessity for anyone working in the fishing industry and along the water.
Bunny boots – Large, white, insulated boots originally designed for the Army, these boots keep feet warm in minus 70-degree temperatures. The boots are no longer being produced but are very popular for outdoor recreation and can be found in Anchorage second-hand stores.
Cache – Cache (pronounced "cash") is 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. People still cache their food when camping or hunting by hoisting it into the air away from their camp in case a bear is in the area.
Dall sheep – Dall (pronounced "doll") Sheep inhabit the mountain ranges of Alaska but are sometimes found in rocky gorges below timberline in Southcentral Alaska. They can be seen along the Seward Highway just south of Anchorage. Uppercase the “D” in Dall, which is named for scientist William H. Dall.
Dog mushing – Alaska’s official state sport and an important mode of transportation, which is also known sled dog racing.
Fireweed - The magenta-colored perennial herb that blooms in late summer and autumn. Alaskans tell the tale that when the fireweed reach their bloom the countdown to winter begins.
Forget-me-nots – Alaska’s state flower. These tiny flowers grow low to the ground and are recognized by their bright blue petals surrounding a yellow eye. Forget-me-nots are found growing wild throughout most of the state, and you can pick up a packet of seeds in most Anchorage curio stores.
Ice grips or cleats – Traction devices that can be attached to the bottoms of shoes for traction on icy sidewalks and easily removed when entering a building.
Ice worms – Yes, these are real. These tiny annelid worms less than an inch long and about the thickness of a piece of thread. They live in the ice and snow near the surface of a glacier and thrive at temperatures at or near freezing. They feed on windblown pollen and bits of vegetation on the surface or trapped between the layers of the snow. They can be seen at the Begich Boggs Visitor Center at Portage Glacier.
Layering – This is not a fashion statement, but refers to dressing in many layers from long underwear to fleece with rain or wind outerwear to protect against the ever-changing Alaska weather.
Moose – The same in plural form, moose are the world's largest member of the deer family and the Alaska race is the largest of all the moose.
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.
Snowmachine – Alaskans refer to their snowmobiles, Arctic Cats and Ski-Doos as snowmachines. Snowmachiners use 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.
Studded shoes – Literally, shoes with studs on the soles. Studded shoes give better traction on slippery sidewalks and can be a necessity in the winter. The really sporty wear studded shoes for winter running and walking along the trails.
Studded tires – Also known as winter or snow tires, they provide traction on icy roadways. Law mandates they cannot be put on any earlier than Oct. 1 and must be removed in the spring by April 15.
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.
Fly fishing – Fish are caught using artificial flies that are cast into the water using a fly-rod.
Hooligan – These oily fish were traditionally used as candles when dried and placed in stone holders. The small fish typically gather in large schools off the mouths streams to spawn during May in South-central Alaska.
Reel fishing – Fish are caught by using a weighted line and bait. This is most often done in the ocean.
Run – Refers to the time when fish swim back up the rivers to spawn. This is when they are harvested.
Salmon – Five species of Pacific salmon can be found in Alaska: Chinook or king salmon, Coho or silver salmon, humpback or pink salmon, sockeye or red salmon, and chum or dog salmon.
Spawn – The reproduction process of fish. The reproduction process of salmon is one of the most interesting life cycles of any animal on earth. Born in a fresh water stream and then migrating into the ocean to live in salt water, they migrate for thousands of miles before returning to their natal stream to spawn and then eventually die.
Break-up - The end of an Alaska winter when the ice that has frozen the rivers thaws and breaks up. Alaskans joke about having a fifth season called break-up, between winter and spring when the snow begins to melt.
Cabin fever – A mental state that may develop during the long dark Alaska winter, especially among those who are house-bound by the cold.
Chinook winds – Unseasonably warm winds that can cause a snow thaw in the middle of winter.
Solstice – Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year, and Anchorage will see about 19 hours of daylight on June 21. Solstice is celebrated by Alaskans all over the state in a variety of ways. Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, has long been celebrated on December 21 as the day in the year when daylight gradually increases each day up until the Summer Solstice.
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.
Alaska native terms
ANCSA – The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, commonly abbreviated ANCSA, was signed into law by Pres. Richard M. Nixon on Dec. 18, 1971, is the largest land claims settlement in U.S. history. ANCSA was intended to resolve the long-standing issues surrounding aboriginal land claims in Alaska, as well as to stimulate economic development throughout Alaska. The settlement extinguished Alaska Native claims to the land by transferring titles to 12 Alaska Native regional corporations and more than 200 local village corporations. It included the distribution of $962 million and 44 million acres of land.
Aleut & Alutiiq – Alaska Native people who traditionally lived in the area stretching from Prince William Sound to the end of the Aleutian Islands.
Athabascan – Alaska Native people who traditionally lived in the interior of Alaska.
Elder – A seasoned Alaska Native respected for their extensive knowledge of their culture and way of life.
Inupiaq & Yupik – The Inupiaq and Yupik People are still hunting and gathering societies. They continue to subsist on the land and sea of north and northwest Alaska.
Kuspuk (KUSS-puck) – A cloth parka cover often made of velvet or brightly colored cotton print.
Native – An Alaskan who is Indian, Eskimo and/or Aleut. Alaska Native should be used on first reference.
Potlatch – This Alaska Native gathering is held to commemorate major life events. Traditional Alaska Native foods are served, songs and dances are performed and gifts are given to the attendees.
Smoking/smoked – Refers to a method of preparing meat and fish. Smoked meats keep longer than cooked meats.
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.
Subsurface – Refers to types of traditional Alaska Native dwellings. Some Native groups, depending on where they lived, built their homes underground or sub-surface. Subsurface also refers to the land claims of the Alaska Native regional corporations and the claims they have to the resource royalties from their subsurface land holdings.
Yup’ik/Cup’ik – Alaska Native people who traditionally lived in the western Alaska. This culture group has many traditional language speakers and a rich culture.
Eyak/Tlingit/Haida/Tshimshian – Alaska Native people who traditionally lived in the Southeast Alaska.
Billiken – A good luck figurine often carved out of ivory.
Moose nuggets – Moose droppings that can be shellacked and made into novelty items such as swizzle sticks and tie tacks.
Oosik (OO-sick) – A tourist souvenir made from the penis bone of a walrus.
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.
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.
Commonly mispronounced words
Alyeska (al-lee-YES-ka) - One of the original names for Alaska, Alyeska is an Aleut word meaning “the great land.”
Kenai (KEY-nigh) – City in Southcentral Alaska in the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the name of a major river popular for fishing.
Matanuska – Susitna (mat-uh-NOO-skuh soo-SIT-na) – This region includes Palmer, Wasilla, Big Lake and Willow and is also known as Mat-Su or the Valley.
Seward (soo-ward) – A city in the Kenai Peninsula Borough named after William H. Seward, United States Secretary of State who engineered the purchase of Alaska from the Russians.
Valdez (val-DEEZ) – A city located in Prince William Sound and where the terminus of the Alyeska Trans Alaska Pipeline System is located.