Anchorage Slang

Anchorage Slang

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One sure way to distinguish between a visitor and a local in any city is to listen out for slang terms and slang phrases. Anchorage, Alaska is no different. In some ways, there are even more peculiar expressions used in Alaskan lingo than in American slang because of the Native influence.

(While we're on the subject of Anchorage local language, remember that "Native" is always capitalized.)
Some Anchorage slang has its roots in the Gold Rush era, but many slang terms have arisen without anyone knowing where they come from. You'll find Anchorage local language used by everyone, including adults, school children, politicians, TV news reporters, newspapers and authors. Anchorage local lingo crosses all boundaries of class, education, age and occupation. Here are just a few examples:


If you say you are going "Outside" for a few weeks, it doesn't mean you are going for some fresh air or on an extended camping trip to the woods. Outside means anywhere in the lower 48 states, but does not include Hawaii. That is just simply "Hawaii." Outside, just like Native, is always capitalized because it is a proper noun.

The origin of this Anchorage slang term is probably the fact that many non-Alaskans don't even consider Alaska part of the United States. So, since we are "outside" of the U.S. to the majority of the country, it is only fair that down there is "Outside" to us.


Another term related to location is "Bush." This is not referring to a special shrub in the yard. It means any small village or community that is not on the road system. This includes most of the state when you stop to think about it.


Most "cheechakos" don't understand Anchorage slang until they have earned their "sourdough" status. A "cheechako" is someone who is new to Alaska and knows little about living here. A "sourdough" is someone who has been here a long time.

"Cheechako" is a Native word, or at least has Native origins, but the origin of the slang term "sourdough" is not at all clear. By most accounts, this Anchorage slang term probably stems from the Gold Rush era and has something to do with the sourdough starter that is used to make a good loaf of bread. Everyone who bakes knows that the older the sourdough starter, the better the bread. Hence, the longer one lives in Alaska, the more knowledgeable one gets.

"Combat fishing"

"Combat fishing" is Anchorage local lingo for the process of fishing on a river or stream, usually for salmon, when your fellow fisherman is less than 12 inches away from you. "Sourdoughs" usually have their own secret spots for fishing, so most "combat fishing" is done by those silly "cheechakos."

"Snow machines"

In the winter, those who speak Anchorage local language ride "snow machines," not snow mobiles. Hearing the word "snowmobile" is the surest way of pegging someone as a newcomer or tourist.

"Termination dust"

One of my favorite Anchorage slang terms (and sights) is "termination dust." This is the first light snowfall in the mountains each year, and is a sure sign that fall is over and winter is on its way. For many, the snowy winter is a welcome relief from the rainy summer.

"Bunny Boots"

Once the snow and cold of winter really take hold, it is time to pull out our Bunny Boots. I don't know why they are called "Bunny Boots," because they actually look like Mickey Mouse's feet. Bunny Boots are military-issue winter boots that appear to be made of nothing more than white, sometimes black, rubber. However, these boots will keep your feet warm, even at 30 degrees below zero.

Bunny Boots are an acceptable part of winter dress attire, to be worn for any occasion. I even know a few folks who have dress Bunny Boots for special occasions.

"Arctic entry"

When you come in from outside wearing your Bunny Boots, you don't just walk into the living room. Most Alaskan houses and cabins have an "arctic entry" where you discard your boots and put on your "mukluks."

An "arctic entry" is a small room between the front door and the main house that helps to keep the cold out and offers a good place to take off your parka and boots. Put your on "mukluks," soft, animal-skin slippers or boots, and you are ready to go into the house.


This last Anchorage slang term sounds pretty innocent and common (the end of a marriage, the dissolution of the Soviet Union). Here in Alaska, however, it has a much more sinister meaning; spring snow and ice melt. It is absolutely the sloppiest, muddiest, slipperiest time of the year, when you don't know if it will rain, snow or freeze.

The ice on frozen rivers begins to crack and flow, causing huge ice dams and potential flooding along the banks. Five feet or more of accumulated snow begins to melt on top of still-frozen soil, leaving streams of water and mud for unsuspecting "cheechakos" to attempt to navigate safely.

But, despite the horror of breakup, pretty soon the trees begin to get their leaves, the geese return to the lakes and parks, it is daylight past 3PM and all of us "sourdoughs" are ready for a whole new batch of "cheechakos" to come for a visit. Just make sure you learn a few Anchorage slang terms and phrases before you arrive.
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