So Alaska is part of the United States, right? Well, yes. Technically. Anyone who has lived there for years can tell you though that living in Alaska is more like living in another country that simply has some common ties to the U.S. There is a very unique culture, a unique general attitude, and you can’t argue that there aren’t a lot of places in the States anywhere that can match the amazing scenery that makes up the great state of Alaska. While you won’t have much of a problem understanding the English, even “Village English” often spoken in the bush (think English spoken in a kind of melodic halting pacing). While the English difference from Alaska to regular US isn’t nearly as big as the difference between say Australian English and American English, there are still some common slang you will want to know about.
First of all, one big point: NEVER refer to the tallest mountain as Mount McKinley. That remains a huge sore spot for the residents of Alaska, who ALL refer to the mountain by its traditional native name: Denali (Day-nall-e), the “nall” rhymes with “Stall.” This might not seem a big deal, but it’s a major point of respect, and besides, Denali sounds a lot cooler anyway, doesn’t it?
While there’s tons of slang that is used by residents, some slang is much more common than others. This post will briefly describe some of the most common slang phrases used by Alaskan residents.
The Lower 48: The Untied States, specifically the Continental United States. There is no special name for Hawaii.
Cheechako Love (Seasonal Partners): Cheechako Love is the more traditional slang, referring to very temporary love that often starts as winter is coming and ends in the spring when the sun returns. Also hints at out of staters who move to Alaska, then think they’re in love going into the first winter. Seasonal partners is a slightly cruder word for this used by some young adults to the practice of hooking up for winter for *cough* companionship *cough again* and to help one another through the hard winter before then mutually breaking up in the spring.
Sourdough: Refers to an old hand, or long time Alaskan. There’s no set number of years for this, but “Old Sourdough” gets thrown down a lot, so a decade at the minimum although the implication is usually for a much longer time period than that.
Bear Insurance #1 & #2: This is a fun one. There are two things this is used as slang for. First, guns (hey this is Alaska). Bear insurance refers to a high powered shotgun, .44 Magnum, or .357 Magnum, the only two common handguns which have the stopping power to take down most bears. Bear insurance #2 is having one friend who is much slower than you.
Seattle Junior: Anchorage, Alaska. Not recommended to use this around Anchorage, but up in the Interior it’s good for quite a few hoots.
The Interior: Middle of the state, usually north of Denali. Some people consider the Denali part of the interior, others don’t. Everyone agrees that the city of Fairbanks is in the heart of the interior region of the state.
The Bush: The Bush is any part of the wild in Alaska only accessible by plane or float plane…which is most of Alaska.
Going Outside: This term is used to describe life long Alaskans who are traveling out of state.
Spenard Divorce: Ah, now here is the type of unique slang you would expect from Alaska! Based on a story most people insist is true, a Spenard Divorce revolves around an incredibly messy break up/divorce that involves the use of firearms, and sometimes is even fatal to one party.
These are some of the most common and popular forms of slang, although there are dozens if not hundreds of other slang terms, including many that are only used during the deep dark winters that last, you know forever or thereabouts. However with this list you’ll have a good grip on a lot of the major slang used by native Alaskans and you won’t be behind on the jokes.