(Illustration by John S. Cuneo)

Devil’s Dictionary

Bruce McCall

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By Marshall Sella

BEFORE HE VANISHED in Mexico in 1914, never to be heard from again, the formidable writer Ambrose Bierce, whose short stories often explored themes of horror and death, cobbled together his Devil’s Dictionary. It was a fiercely satirical work, filled with definitions such as “fidelity (n): a virtue peculiar to those who are about to be betrayed.” Here at Outside, we have a much brighter view of the world. In a full quarter-century of publishing, we’re proud to say, only nine members of our editorial staff have vanished in Mexico (and six of those, quite frankly, weren’t pulling their weight). More to the point, we admit that we use a fair amount of obscure terminology and slang in our pages. Phrases like “footy,” “mangy choss,” and “two-planker wanker” are tossed around with gleeful abandon. Most often, we like to tell ourselves that you’ll comprehend these terms “in context,” because it saves a lot of time and trouble in the copy-editing stage. But maybe that’s not fair to you, our cherished readers. So here’s a primer to make your next 25 years of reading a little more illuminating and a little less, shall we say, chossy.


Car·a·bin·er (n) Car·a·bin·er (n)
Char·is·mat·ic meg·a·fau·na (n) Char·is·mat·ic meg·a·fau·na (n)

ad·ven·ture (n) : defying death without begrudging it.

al·pine-style climb·ing (n): ascending a mountain without porters· Curiously, valets and maids are still permitted.

bar·bie (n): photo of someone taken from a distant valley floor or neighboring peak. Downright disturbing if the person being photographed is, in real life, no larger than a doll.

bonk (v): to fail, quit, or conk out due to physical or mental weakness. Also British slang for casual sex, which, sadly, carries the same definition.

brain buck·et (n): a helmet· Less entertainingly colorful when the bucket is “scooped empty” by an EMT.

brick (n): a multisport workout· For instance: triathletes swimming, biking, and running in a single training session. (Compare “house,” which is seen when thousands of athletes perform these events while cemented together.)

bro deal (n): variation of “pro deal,” as in “pro purchase.” And, no, there is no such word as “brostitution.”

car·a·bin·er (n): a wee caribou whose antlers are used in climbing; here, mainly a gratuitous excuse to use the funny-sounding word “antlers.”

car·cass (n): the spent remains of a happy editorial intern at the end of Outside’s “education process.”

char·is·mat·ic meg·a·fau·na (n): big-eyed, attention-grabbing mammals, such as pandas and baby seals, as opposed to rats and toads. That said, you’re on a lifeboat with an endangered scor- pion and an adorable, adorable koala, and there are only two life jackets· Which do you save? Yeah. Yeah, we thought so.

class sys·tem (n): scale for rating the difficulty of a river, in ascending difficulty from Class I to Class VI. “Class VII” is hep whitewater slang for “the afterlife.”

clip·less (adj): lacking toeclips; commonly said of bicycle pedals· (Look, folks, these aren’t all intended to be humorous. We teach· For the children.)

cord (n): (1) a climbing rope (2) the part of the spine that breaks if (1) snaps·

cor·du·roy (n): result of a snowcat’s creation of a freshly groomed trail of snow, leaving a ridged surface· Makes for fine, if very temporary, pants.

crit·ter flick (n): an animal movie&. Hyphenated, “critter-flick” is an amusing game to show little Jimmy in Yellowstone, as long as he can outrun bison.
crux (n): the most difficult section of a climb· It bears mentioning that “crux” derives from the same Latin root as “crucifixion.”

di·aled (adj): to have your shit together;to have all the parts on your equipment working smoothly· As in, “Hey, I finally got that bike dialed·” Or, for indoorsy types, “Hey, I finally got that phone dialed.”

draft (v): to ride in the slipstream directly behind another cyclist, oddly conscripting him into military service in the process.

ducks (n): people standing around like decoys on the slopes or along a singletrack. Be advised that, in this sense of the word, “duck season” is illegal in 43 states.

dude (n): if you don’t know this word, stop reading this list. Seriously.


Gon·zo (adj) Gon·zo (adj)

Earth Day (n): annual celebration of the environment when greens gather together and leave vast amounts of unrecyclable paper litter and plastic flotsam in their nature-loving wake.

end-o (n): flying over your handlebars,then being mourned at your funeral-o.

ep·ic (adj): A quasi-bad, yet exhilarating, experience or thing; a notch coolerthan “killer.”

ex·pe·di·tion (n): well, you know this one, so here’s a quick joke. Grasshopper walks into a bar. Bartender says, “Hey, we’ve got a drink named after you!” Grasshopper says, “You’ve got a drink named Steve?”

ex·treme (adj): as with art and porn, you’ll know it when you see it, or someone will explain it to you later at the hospital.

free-heel·er (n): telemark skier. Term developed by the corporation that owns and earns residuals from use of the letter “e”; immediately increased profits over the use of “telemark skier” by 67 percent.

fresh·ies/pow pow/stash (n): all terms forfresh snow. (Except for, you know, “stash.”)

get schooled (v): to wipe out or be humbled in competition· Similarly, to attend Florida State or LSU.

glis·sade (n): French term referring to a downhill slide on your backside.

glis·sade (n): déjàvu for a French term referring to a downhill slide on your backside.
gnar·ly (adj): exhilarating, though a tad more severe than “epic.”

gon·zo (adj): describes crazy behavior while climbing, surfing, or skiing that defies Death. Yeah, go ahead, flip off Death. Mock it.It won’t be back for you.

Gör·an Kropp (n): famed adventure athlete who rode his bike to and from Everest, in the process summiting the mountain without supplemental oxygen. The achievement was subsequently diminished when it was noticed that “Göran Kropp” was obviously the name of a space alien.

grom·met (n): a novice surfer or very small gromm·

GU (n): gooey carbo-packed substance many athletes eat during a tough workout· Every bit the savory culinary wonder its name evokes· Bon appétit!

gu·ru (n): someone who professes to have a deep understanding of the world that others lack. (See “thug,” someone to call moments after a guru-sighting.)

ham·mer (v): to crank, as in “hammer a hill on a mountain bike.” (n): a remarkably strong cyclist, as in “That guy is a hammer.” (adv): actually, there is no adverb here, but grammar and parts of speech are important. Stay in school, kids!

huck·er (n): a snowboarder or mountain biker who will exploit anything for publicity, ideally while wearing a pair of fabulous new Outside® brand sunglasses ($179.95).

In·to Thin Air (n): final destination of Jon Krakauer’s comparative obscurity after his best-selling book about the 1996 Everest disaster.

kill·er (adj): even more “epic” than “gnarly.” (Where’s “cool” on this scale, again? I’m lost.)

Kon-Ti·ki (n): the 45-foot balsa-wood raft that Thor Heyerdahl sailed from Peru to the Pacific island of Raroia in 1947 during the most bizarre police chase of all time.

liv·ing the life (v): actually doing the stuff we write about in the magazine. (See “lying.”)


Rip (v) Rip (v)

moun·tain bike (n): OK, bub, so you’re still reading this, even after not comprehending “dude.” Welcome back from the coma! FYI: Nixon resigned, the Soviets lost the Cold War, and robots still haven’t “made their move.”

NAS·CAR (n): we polled the entire staff and not one of us has the vaguest clue· Anyone?
on be·lay
(adj): holding the rope for a climber· In high winds, a source of endless confusion for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Pat·a·guc·ci (n): Patagonia wear. Gucci is now fighting a court order that would change its name to Gonia.

peak bag·ging (v): summiting a mountain; also a failed 1989 artwork by Christo, who took a shot at swaddling K2 in a wispy cotton twill.

pin·head (n): a telemark skier (or, you know, someone with a hilariously tiny head).

pi·rogue (n): derived from the Spanish word piragua, a dugout canoe usually found in South America and Africa. Most often wooden, as plastic dugouts are exceedingly rare.

poach (v): to skip ahead of someone who is about to ski down a slope, ride a trail, summit a mountain, etc. Properly followed by a good old-fashioned ass-kicking.

por·tage (v): to haul one’s boat and gear across land between bodies of water. Sound inconsequential? Yeah? You carry a 30-horsepower Evinrude outboard three miles on your back, motherfucker!

rip (v): to perform a sport aggressively, particularly the new Olympic event of paper-tearing.

road rash (n): scabs from a wreck· Compare “road rage” (n): leaving scabs on others after a near-wreck.

(adj): shit out of luck, as opposed to S.D.O.L., shit that’s merely down on its luck.

scree (n): see “talus.”

Sev·en Sum·mits (n): the highest peaks on all seven continents. Bagging the Seven is a coveted accomplishment for wealthy expeditioners, many of whom are gullible enough to believe that Grumpy and Sneezy are the most perilous.

Sher·pa (n): a Himalayan climbing guide, notably on Mount Everest. Relegated to the role of inferior “helpers” because of the fact that instead of climbing the mountain, Sherpas both climb the mountain and carry massive amounts of gear.

shred (v): to snowboard aggressively. But really, feel free to insert your own Enron joke here.

sick pow on the mow (n): plenty of good new snow, especially on the morning after a big storm. Completely different from “a sick POW shouting ‘Mao!'” which is kind of a Deer Hunter thing.

sick (adj): more “gnarly” than “epic,” but not quite so “epic” as “killer.” (Are you keeping track? Because I’m not.)

six-pack (n): a well-muscled stomach or a six-person chairlift, but rarely both at the same time.

Smart·Wool (n): a popular brand of wool products that provide insulation without the itchiness of plain wool, named ironically as it is derived from the dumbest beast ever to tread the earth.

snow·board (n): you’ve been warned about these easy ones, pal. Move along.

spanked (v): to be severely worn out, as in “That climb spanked me.” Less rugged-sounding if you add, “just like Mommy spanks me.”

spe·lunk (v): the sound that Britney Spears’storso would make after a fall in whatever that caving sport is called.

sport climb·ing
(n): endeavor in which one climbs using artificial bolts, just as God intended.

‘spro (n): espresso. A real time-saver, as the full word itself suggests! Squandering time by uttering the entire word “espresso” is to be shunned within the fleeting, even whisper-quick, passage of time. I mean, life’s just too short for meaningless and excessive verbiage in this cockeyed caravan. Nothing in this world is so repugnant as verbosity and repetition and redundancy. So, for our sake, for your sake, from now on, it’s “‘spro,” not “espresso.”

stoked (adj): very excited about something, or actually ablaze—but, here again, rarely both at the same time.

SUV (n): represents 15 minutes of such a vehicle owner’s progress attempting to spell the phrase “Survival of the Earth.”

Mission #4: 2027: Mars, Ho! (Cont.)

ROCKET SHOES GOT US UP the sheer 10,000-foot basal cliff that surrounds Olympus Mons in minutes. Didn’t need those portaledges stuck on the cliffside, and just as well. The suction cups that held them there popped off after half an hour, and down they went.

NO NICE SHARP EVEREST-LIKE peak at the summit, just the rim around a 50-mile-wide crater two miles deep. Fox outbid Disney for naming rights (Mount Murdoch), and their little JetCams were everywhere. Big wrap-up show, NASA on one frequency and the Fox director on the other. America’s poet laureate had written our script, but the TelePrompTer blippoed, so they went to a commercial instead. Was the world ever miffed!
You’re three times as strong in the Martian atmosphere as you are on Earth. We felt like action figures up there. It’s no secret that all of us mountainauts were treated for depression when we got back. The letdown. Just brutal.


Vel·cro™ (n) Vel·cro™ (n)

ta·lus (n): see “scree.”

The Big E (n): Everest. (Sorry, elephantiasis!)

thread the nee·dle
(v): to negotiate a dangerously tight section of singletrack, rapids, or glades. Which, incidentally, is a good time to reflect on just how cheap and replaceable actual thread is.

tight (adj): somewhere between “epic” and “gnarly,” with a “sick” pallor.

torched (adj): bone-tired, as in “My legs are torched·” Less funny when that line is uttered by someone whose legs are literally on fire and you say, “I hear you, man. I hear you.”

Tour (n): the Tour de France. Frankly, the route is more efficient by train.

tree hug·ging (v): “first base” for environmental fanatics.

tricked-out (adj): refers to a particularly cool new product, such as a bike with lots of expensive aftermarket parts. Sometimes used to describe the consumer who paid for them.

Vel·cro™ (n): definition written by special guest Larry King: How did we ever manage without Velcro? …Bengal tigers are the only mammal that can drink salt water …For my money, Myrna Loy was the best actress of her time—or any other time! …Yellowstone is bigger than it looks in person.

(n): the amount of vertical drop on a ski run. The French like to insist “vert” refers to the color green, but doesn’t that add extra incentive to change its meaning, if only to mess with their heads?
whip·per (n): a fall onto a rope. Often results in a whipper-lasher-to-the-climberer.

white·wa·ter (n): a river characterized by rapids, used by rafters and kayakers. Little-known fact: Water is actually rather colorless unless it’s kind of churning around for some reason.

yard sale (n): a fall that spreads your gear from point of impact to its final resting place. Despite its name, rarely a moneymaker, and also hard to advertise in advance.

ye·ti (n): mythic, hairy Himalayan beast that has never been photographed, with the exception of Hollywood films in which James Caan appears without a shirt.

zonked (adj): worn out from an epic adventure of some sort, be it biking, mountaineering, or writing a list of definitions clarifying the Outside lexicon. Eventually results in lacking the wit and energy to write jokes or whatever, etc., etc.

From Outside Magazine, Oct 2002 Lead Photo: Illustration by John S. Cuneo