Antarctic Slang

Found this whilst eating breakfast, some of it is very interesting and I thought I would share it 🙂


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 as to 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.


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

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 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.

Bog chisel – An implement with a wooden handle like a broom handle about 6 foot 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.

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


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

City Mice – Support personnel whose duties force them to remain at McMurdo Station. Am

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 forwards 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, but also 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 (I think – clarification would be appreciated) 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.

Dingle – Good weather, on a dingle day it’s time to get your boots on and go out to play – or excellent visibility. 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. Am

Dome Slugs – Those who live and work in the central Dome at the south polar station. Am

Donga – Sleeping area. Aus

Doo – Short for skidoo, small robust and very effective small-scale transport over snow and ice, like a motor-bike on skis. Can be used to transport 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


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 inexpertise 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

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.

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. Br.
This has now progressed to videoing everything, I have been recently pleasantly surprised to come across this, part of a great and noble tradition.


helo – Helicopter.

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. Am

Hollywood Shower – A naval term, derisively used to describe showers of longer than the allotted two minutes (fresh water in a liquid form is relatively rare in Antarctica) Am.

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.


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” 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 with no physical contact with the outside world for up to 11 months depending on where the base is. 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 gritty volcanic soil there that is exposed in the summer.

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.

Medevac – A contraction of “medical evacuation” – a special flight out for someone before their tour is over as a result of illness or injury. 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 larger but 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). 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. Br


Nutty – 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 healthy sandwiches (tuna if I remember rightly) – I was observed with interest but without comment by other (as it turned out – wiser) people around. Come lunch break, while others tucked into their hard but edible “nutty” I sat and sucked on a frozen sandwich. Br

Nutty (alt -probably original) – The dog food which 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 which was abbreviated to Nutty by the dog drivers. (Thanks to Drummy Small for this – more.) 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 OAE status. Am

Offensive potatoes – tinned potatoes

Oggin – The sea. Br.


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 environmental gas that, when warmed with Glenfiddich (or any other less qualified inebriant of choice), pop in your face. 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.” Trust me, it had nothing to do with genealogy or flowers. 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.


Race around the World – A popular race around the south pole marker on Dec. 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.

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 – (thanks to “Icegirl” for posting this on the guest map ;o))

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 has to be one of the most unpleasant ways 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 be slotted.

Slushy – A sort of kitchen helper/hand for the day performed by base members on a “slushy rota” (similar to Br. “gash rota” and gashman). Aus

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 mucous 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” etc. Br

Springer – A summer worker who arrives before the main hoards. Br


Three-hundred-club – To belong, you need to go through 300 degrees Fahrenheit, this is achieved by rolling naked outside in a chilly Antarctic temperature and then going inside to hit the sauna. Am

Thrutch – difficulty, usually applied to progress through deep or poor snow conditions. “the last bit was a real thrutch”. Br

Transantarctics – The Transantarctic mountain range that stretches across the middle of the continent, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. Am


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.


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. Br.

Winterovers – Any one who stays on an Antarctic base for the whole of the winter.

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