Throwback Thursday - Bouldering Dictionary?

In NEB’s early days, we had many great contributors.  Barney Waters was a Boston-based climber with a wicked pissah sense of humor.  Here’s his take on defining the language of bouldering from our old Bouldering School section.



English As a Second Language
by Barney Waters

"I have no idea what you're saying to me right now", my girlfriend looks at me like I'm speaking Norwegian with a mouthful of marbles. I have been trying to explain exactly what it is I do every weekend when I disappear into the woods with a spongy mat and a toothbrush.

As she walks away and shakes her head in a cocktail of disgust, despair and open mockery I realize that the root of the problem is simple...... my girlfriend doesn't speak Boulder. As a result I have attempted to define some of the basic words in every boulderers vocabulary and hope that any of you who are in need of a English/Bouldering dictionary can make use of it for yourselves and those non climbers around you. I would leave you only with the disclaimer that my definitions are not exactly 'official', and as far as dictionaries go this one's about as legitimate as a sighting of Elvis playing chess with the Loch Ness Monster.

Boulderers climb problems not routes, implying that the boulderers task requires more thinking, consideration and solving than simple route climbing. This might even be true if you exclude chalk, tick marks and climb V14. There are more interesting alternatives offered in a thesaurus, such as 'Conundrum', 'Dilemma' and even 'Can Of Worms' which I now use exclusively.

A grade in regular terms is a mark indicating a level of accomplishment, an accepted standard, and a degree or stage in a process. Many people think bouldering grades are life or death but we know they are way more important than that. Bouldering grades can be used to measure your progress, impress your friends or inflate/deflate your ego. Once you have climbed the hardest grade you are free to disown the whole grading process and take a spirituality angle.

The current grading scale used by most of the developed world. The 'V' comes from the safety conscious originator of the grading scale, John 'Volvo' Sherman [ed. note: the 'V' in the V-scale comes from John Sherman nickname of 'Vermin'].

A successful ascent. Apparently the term 'to send' is a slang descendent of the word 'ascend'.

Mango Tango might be orange and crimpy, but then so is Carrot Top's hair. Crimp not only describes a thin fingertip hold but also a method of creating wavy hair.

Successful ascent of a can of worms after multiple tries. Alternatively the result of unprotected sex.

The moment when your body stops rising upward and before it starts to fall back downward, and the optimum time to latch a hold that requires dynamic movement to reach it. Alternatively a condition of sexual dysfunction that affects some older men.

Often used to gain the top of a boulder, a mantel requires the boulderer to push down with their hands to allow a foot to gain the same hold as the hands when no other higher handholds are available. Out of respect for Mickey Mantle who hit 536 career home runs, I prefer to call this move a 'Mickey', and suggest you do the same.

John Gill:
The father of modern bouldering, John Gill was maybe the first climber to focus on bouldering exclusively and to introduce dynamic movements into his ascents. Gill's ascent of The Thimble is thought to have helped legitimize bouldering in the eyes of the climbing establishment of the time and pave the way for bouldering's popularity today. While John Gill's climbing style has set the tone for thousands, the same cannot be said for his 'John Stockton' style shorts.

Having both hands or both feet on the same hold. If you thought matching was about having your shoes and chalk bag in the same color then you may be in the wrong place.

A boulder problem that is high enough to inflict injury upon you should you happen to blow the Mickey. Also a cocktail served in a tall glass. Also a common sport climbing injury caused when taking a long fall in a tight harness.

A face or boulder that is less than 90 degrees. Requires technique and strength to even get off the ground.

Beer poisoning. Requires technique and strength to even get off the ground.

Matt Wilder sending Flying Marcel, V10 at Hueco Tanks.  Photograph by Dan Knights.

Matt Wilder sending Flying Marcel, V10 at Hueco Tanks.  Photograph by Dan Knights.

Spanish for 'hollow', Hueco's are the round sunken holds formed in the rock at legendary bouldering area Hueco Tanks in Texas. They could have been called 'Tanks' but that word was already taken by the army.

Sit Down Start:
Sitting one's rear on the ground to get the most movement that the boulder may allow. Often the sit start part of a problem can add a level of difficultly to a regular standing start and make you look like a freak to passers by.

A problem or section of a problem that involves lateral movement. The term 'traverse' can be used broadly in the outdoors and so if someone tells you they have just completed the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire it may be irrelevant to ask whether or not they did the sit start.

A pocket small enough to only allow the use of one digit. Insert your own joke here.

On paper a spotter is one who watches and guards a performer during practice to prevent injury. In reality a spotter is your friend who stands underneath you smoking a cigarette, looking around to see what else is going on. If you let out a blood curdling scream you might get a hand raised below you. It's unlikely you'll ever get a 'home run spot' which is when you have people crowded below you arms raised like baseball fans in the bleachers underneath an incoming home run ball. That only happens in magazines, unless of course you're famous.

Tips, info, tricks, words, slight noises, weather predictions, nods, Morse code, extra sensory perception, body language, dog barks or anything else that could give any possible indication whatsoever of how to climb a particular problem.

Climbing a problem first go with no beta and no falls.

Climbing a problem first go after having received beta, regardless of whether or not you asked for it.

An offwidth is a crack which is basically an annoying width, but Annoywidth doesn't sound as good. An offwidth is too wide for a hand jam or a fist and too narrow to chimney, so usually requires a combination of wedging, squeezing, chicken winging and all other means necessary.

Chicken Winging, or just Winging in general:
Not actually a real word.

My Oxford dictionary is quite accurate on this one....'A fine jet of liquid discharged from a pressurized container'. Just replaced the word 'liquid' with the word 'bullshit' and that's pretty much it. Use that sentence you just read as a fairly good example.

Dan Knights sending Duroxmanie, 6C+ at Font.  Photo by Matt Wilder.

Dan Knights sending Duroxmanie, 6C+ at Font.  Photo by Matt Wilder.

Legendary forest bouldering area in France, pronounced 'fon-tan-blur'. You could pronounce it 'Fountain Blue' but the locals will probably look at you in disgust, berate you in their native tongue and then spit on your shoe.

Not following the natural line offered up by the rock itself, but instead adding or eliminating holds or features to alter the problem to your specifications. In a nutshell, 'artificial'. Eliminates would be considered contrived and the jury is still out on Britney Spears.

Dime Edge:
A term to describe a tiny rock edge that is barely enough to get shoe rubber to stick to, or for Fred Nicole to dyno to, match on and then campus from.

Midnight Lightening:
Boulder problem in Camp 4 in Yosemite, arguably the most famous boulder problem in the world. Also a release of gas while you're asleep, especially after having eaten Indian or Mexican food.

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