'Nose Wipers' and 'Boondoggles': Antarctica Has a Language All Its Own

Jul 1, 2024

If you ever become one of the rarest tourists of the world, venturing to Antarctica, you might notice that the workers on the cold and remote continent use a few terms that sound wildly foreign. And that's even if you speak their language. It seems that the folks there have come up with a way of speaking all their own.  

Antarctica is the only continent with no permanent human dwellers. But thousands of scientists and support staff live there for parts of the year.

Steph Kaefer, who obtained a doctorate in linguistics from New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, recently released a first-time study of the many colloquial phrases used by people on Antarctica who speak English. She found that people who live in settlements have formed terms like “fidlet”, “jolly”, and “tray’d.”   

A “fidlet” comes from the British residents. It is a diminutive of “Fid.” This derives from the acronym for Falkland Island Dependencies. That's the former name of the British Antarctic Survey. A non-work trip away from a station is called a “jolly.” Again, that's for the British. For the Americans, that trip is called a “boondoggle.” Now, it’s true that “boondoggle” really is a word in English. It means an action that is worthless or pointless. Yet it’s a rather old term.   

“Nose wipers” are the heavy, protective gloves used in extreme weather. And “tray’d” is the phrase given to the last person who puts their dish in the dishwasher. That person now must empty it. 

Linguistic reviews of Antarctic colloquialisms have been performed before. But Kaefer is the first linguist to visit the polar region. She told The Guardian that much of the local language was “mundane.” But “some of the lexicon was richly figurative,” she added.  

Reflect: How might environments or experiences influence the way people create and use unique words or phrases? Have you ever started using specific words or phrases based on your environment or experience? Explain. 

Photo of the silhouette of a person on a boat in Antarctica from Unsplash courtesy of Torsten Dederichs.

Based on how it is used now in Antarctica, which word(s) can be used to replace "boondoggle"? (Common Core RI.5.4; RI.6.4)
a. expedition
b. adventure
c. worthless activity
d. important mission
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