Falling, Flying, Bananas and Chicken Heads

IMG_2851 Climbing internationally can be a great experience. Nothing brings people from all over the globe together like the irrational love of a day spent climbing steep rock. If you travel to lesser known destinations you will often find that local climbers are thrilled to hear how far you have come to try your might on their backyard playground. In addition to the chance to socialize, meeting locals can also help you find out about the conditions of fixed pro and whatever miscellaneous beta you may be unaware of. To facilitate your integration we have gathered a few of the more interesting examples of international climbing jargon.

Oh man, I am so pumped! We’ve all been there, desperately trying to send a climb as your forearms are firing like crazy eventually swelling to ungodly proportions, typically rendering your fingertips useless for doing anything other than holding an ice cold beer. If you are totally pumped and want to commiserate with your German friends you should tell them you have “dicke arme” and in France to be pumped is “avoir les bouteilles” (“to have the bottles”) presumably referring the wine bottle like appearance of your exhausted appendages.

Grab the Chicken Head! In English we have adopted the term chicken-head to describe the odd-shaped fist size knobs that protrude from a face. In French they would call it a banana and in Spanish it’s often referred to as a chile. I am going to have to say that we have hands-down the weirdest interpretation on this one.

Rock! If you’re in France and you break off a hold that goes cascading down be sure to yell “caillou” which means pebble instead of “pierre” meaning rock. Your belay partner, Pierre, will thank you for not making him look up right as the pebble comes careening down at his face.

Elvis Leg. This one goes by many names in English. You may know it as the death wobbles or sewing machine leg. It’s that frustrating phenomenon where your leg starts jerking up and down uncontrollably right when the climbing reaches top intensity. No fun while you’re on the rock, wildly entertaining for those watching from below. In Poland the Elvis leg is referred to as “telegrafowac.”

Falling! You can feel it before it happens, you are coming off the wall and you want to warn your belayer. Maybe it’s a testament to their monster falls or maybe they just like to be dramatic, but in Italy they yell “volo” (“flying”).

Quickdraw. While in English we liken the sport climber’s main tool to Wild West gunslingers of days past, calling out this little pair of biners can get you in some trouble in Italy. In most regions a quickdraw is called “rinvio” while in others they opt for the much more colorful “sveltina” meaning something along the lines of “a quick lay” and apparently very crude depending on your audience.

If you like the list and want more check out this link for a full dictionary of climbing terms. As a personal challenge, let me know what you think “uprzaz” means. (I want to know your first guess, you can look it up afterwards.)

“Bonne Grimpe!”

One Response to “Falling, Flying, Bananas and Chicken Heads”

  1. Lizzie said:

    As a word-nerd, linguaphile, and someone who aspires to travel and get along solely on foreign catch-phrases that are awesome, this is my favorite post so far. Briana can attest to this and might remember wandering the streets of Boston teaching me how to say “e bevutto troppo ierisera” (damn, should’ve included that one in your wedding toast). “Uprzaz” sounds kind of like “razzle-dazzle,” but also something that goes “up.” Which seems appropriate in the climbing world.


    March 29th, 2010 at 12:20 am

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