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Back in the Dark Ages before the internet, it took a long time for climbing slang to spread throughout the community. Someone might come up with a funny term at their local area—like “going clackers” or “going clackerballs,” which happens when a lead climber falls near the first bolt on an overhanging climb, pulls up the belayer, and they clack together midair. In this case, it was American Fork Canyon, Utah, one of America’s first radically steep sport areas and where climbers suddenly faced with this issue, until people figured out you could install a low directional bolt to redirect the rope. A term like this would stay local until visiting climbers came, picked it up, and brought it to their home crags.
I first heard “clackers” in autumn 1990 on a visit to American Fork, and my friends and I imported it to New Mexico later that fall, upon our return. The term made perfect sense on the overhanging volcanic rock of Box Canyon near Socorro, where for years we had been “going clackerballs” but without any way to name it, other than “smashing into each other,” which was long-winded—especially when that very wind had been knocked out of you by your falling climber kicking you in the solar plexus ! Terms spread more slowly and organically in those days; it felt like we had time to savor and play with them before they became either a permanent part of the lexicon or were discarded as stale and passé. And while slang like “jingus” (heinous) and “honed” (fit) did not survive that pre-online era, others like “Take!” have become eternal.
Of course, now, with social media and the internet, slang spreads almost instantaneously—nearly in real time. You might hear “Let’s go!” for the first time on a Monday night in the latest Mellow video, and by Tuesday afternoon it’s on the lips of every shirtless, tatted-up, beanie-wearing bouldering bro at your gym. Or you see the term “day flash” next to a green checkbox and the name of a difficult climb at the end of some long-ass Instagram post rambling on about “feelings” and “privilege,” and you and everyone you know starts using it too, even if nobody seems to know what it actually means. The upside of such rapid dispersion is that our language seems to be richer and more dynamic than ever; the downside is that the life cycle of climbing slang has become so compressed that we’re almost sick of a term as soon as it leaves our mouths.
I took an informal poll of friends and peers on climbing slang we’d all just as soon see disappear in 2023. But this year, instead of just another rant listing why these terms suck, I’ve hidden all 27 of them in a word search puzzle. Print it up, get your favorite pen, and go on a word hunt while you rest between “gym burns” on your “day flash.” Trust me—this is the most hella fun way ever to “do ropes.”
Matt Samet is a freelance writer and editor based in Boulder, Colorado. He is also the author of the Climbing Dictionary, a 250-page reference of climbing terms and slang.