Article | Canadian High Arctic and Greenland

How to Talk like an Adventurer: Nine Fine Phrases You’ll Find Yourself Saying in the Arctic

Get an introductory lesson in Adventurese: a tongue-twisting combination of sailors’ vernacular, Inuktitut, Newfoundland English, scientific terminology, and other Adventure Canada jargon. Learn their hilarious—and sometimes confounding—meanings to prepare for your next Arctic expedition.
Sunny polar swim

© Martin Lipman

An Arctic expedition with Adventure Canada isn’t just a vacation—it’s a journey into a parallel universe, where the sea is hard, the night is bright, whales have horns, and every which-way is south. After cruising though this curious realm, you’ll find yourself speaking a unique language, nonsensical to untutored ears. We like to call it Adventurese. Here’s a tiny sample of nine helpful, everyday phrases to get you started:

1. Grumpus to the starboard, logging in the brash!”
Translation: There’s a minke whale off the right side of the ship, resting at the surface among the floating ice fragments.

2. “Is that the ice blink off the pack? Or a fata morgana?”
Translation: Is the bright light in the sky a reflection off of dense sea ice, or is it merely an Arctic mirage created by warm air layered on top of cold air?

3. “The katabatics are opening a lead. We won’t be nipped or beset!”
Translation: The wind pouring down off of the glacier is creating a passage through the sea ice. The ship won’t be crushed by the ice, nor frozen into it.

4. “With all this albedo, I need a polar-bear dip in the polynya!”
Translation: The sunlight reflecting off the snow is warm, so I want to swim in that area of permanently unfrozen water.

5. “We found an oosik while wet landing from the Zodiac.”
Translation: We discovered a walrus penis-bone while disembarking from the inflatable motorboat into the tidewater.

6. “Wow! A nanuq near a nunatak in Nunatsiavut!”
Translation: Amazing! A polar bear close to a mountain sticking up through an ice sheet in the Labrador Inuit self-government region!

7. “I bought a toque of qiviut and some Netsilingmiut kamiit!”
Translation: I purchased a cap knitted from muskox wool and a pair of traditional boots made by the Inuit people of the community of Gjoa Haven.

8. “While mustering in the mudroom, the EL offered me mattaq.”
Translation: While we were gathered in the area where we keep our outdoor gear, the Expedition Leader gave me a taste of some whale blubber and skin.

9. “That guano-covered growler was calved near the rookery of turrs.”
Translation: That small iceberg coated in bird scat broke off a glacier near a breeding colony of thick-billed murres.

Zodiac landing on rocky beach

© Martin Lipman

About the Author

Aaron Spitzer

Aaron Spitzer

Historian, Political Scientist, Journalist

For more than twenty years, Aaron has obsessively explored, studied, documented—and yammered about—the world’s polar places.

For a decade he ran Up Here, the journal of Canada’s north, which in 2010 was named the country’s best magazine. Before that, Aaron edited Canada’s northernmost paper (Nunatsiaq News), the world’s southernmost paper (Antarctic Sun), and the highest-circulation paper in the Alaskan “Bush” (Tundra Drums).

Aaron recently left Arctic journalism for Arctic academia. He earned a master’s degree in Northern Studies at the University of Alaska in 2015, and is now working on his Ph.D. at the University of Bergen, Norway, where he examines the opportunities and challenges of Indigenous governance in the circumpolar world.