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"Climbing Dictionary" by Matt Samet

"Climbing Dictionary" by Matt Samet
Mountaineers Books, Seattle, 2011

A Dictionary you can read!
Every current or aspiring Climber, whether peak bagger, traditional mountaineer, rock climber, ice climber, high altitude alpinist, sport climber or armchair expert will learn and confirm hundreds of important concepts, techniques, gear and traditions from Matt Samet’s authoritative and fun “Climbing Dictionary”!

From the real names and derivation of historic gear such as the Chouinard-Frost 1960s RURP that hangs on my key chain to shredding a boulder problem, your grasp of the technical talk of climbing will soar. If you can’t verbalize the tools and the action, it is very hard to avoid a high Gumby factor whether nOOb or not.

Mike Tea’s illustrations enrich the text and are an important part of the success of this book. Mike is Black Diamond’s Technical Illustrator.

Matt Samet’s “Sporting Life” column is the world’s longest-running climbing column, a feature of Climbing Magazine since 1997. He is a free lance writer and editor living in Colorado. Matt has written a dictionary that you can read, page by page.
Review posted by Robert Speik on EBay, 11-30 2011
--Robert Speik


Climbing Dictionary: An Interview with Matt Samet
By AB On August 18, 2011

What do words do for us?

There are many studies showing that, without words, without language, we cannot think. At least no more than a rat is able to think.

Having words and symbols to describe our world is not only necessary to our ability to navigate it as conscious, intellectual beings, but words somehow manage even to change our world in some fundamental way. We create words and in turn they create us.

The proof that climbing is such a rich, nuanced and specialized micro-universe is in our particularly quirky and interesting language. And the person at the helm of our vertical lexicon is Matt Samet: climbing’s modern-day amalgam of writers Shakespeare, Bierce and Webster.

Matt Samet has written hands down the most wickedly funny prose in climbing’s considerable compendium. When I started as an intern, and then associate editor, of Rock and Ice, he was my first mentor, and he taught me so much of what I know. I’m excited to announce that Samet has released the Climbing Dictionary—an essential compilation of our own slang, terms, neologisms and lingo.

I highly recommend getting this book—it’s entertaining, informative and funny. Every climber should have a copy, because mastering these words is the first step to mastering the world of climbing.

Because I’m a fellow logophile, I was really interested hearing about the process that went into compiling climbing’s first and very own dictionary, so I sent my old mentor a few questions to pick his brain.

A Climbing Dictionary? OK, buddy, convince me why I need this: Give me the most confusingly abstruse sentence that you can come up with using as many words from your book as you can.
Ah, Jeebus, this is tough. Umm, errr, uhhh. How about a limerick instead?

There once was a hardman from Rifle
For whom V-sickity gastoclings were a trifle
With ten kneebars he sent
With a pre-clip, you bet!
Then quit climbing and sold all his quickdraws on eBay.

I realize the last line doesn’t rhyme, but this is a post-modern limerick.

Anyway, you need the book because it has 670 climber words defined, a ton of great history, a tie-in to an online site with more new words posted every day (, and 130 hilarious and accurate illustrations by the very talented Mike Tea. You need it, everyone in your family needs it, everyone you meet at the cliff needs it. This is just how it is.

In researching questions for this interview, I read that Noah Webster, of Webster’s Dictionary, learned 26 languages and took 27 years to finish his dictionary. How does your experience compare?

Well, I know two official languages, English (sort of) and Italian, and have been climbing for 25 years, so speaking “Climber-ese” for as long. I consider it my third language.

This isn’t your first stab at being a climbing lexicographer. You’ve written other humorous columns, such as your classic “Devil’s Dictionary for Climbers” (one of my all-time favorites!) that not only introduced climbers to new words, but also completely re-defined them. Can you tell us about where your fascination with words, in general, and particularly climbing expressions, comes from?

It’s funny, but when I started climbing, I’m such a literature and word geek that learning all the new terminology was almost cooler to me than learning all the ropework, rock technique, glacier travel, and so on. I learned from a friend (a mountaineer up in the Pacific Northwest), the New Mexico Mountain Club, and from reading Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. So early on I had this pretty standard but well-grounded introduction to the lexicon. But around then, the mid-1980s, sport climbing was also taking off. Out at one of New Mexico’s first sport cliffs, Cochiti Mesa, suddenly you’d be hearing words like “bidoigt” and “redpoint” and “onsight” and “deadpoint”—all these sexy, flashy, Euro-sounding words. It was all very exciting, and since then I’ve been interested in how these words came about. Like pretty much everything in our sport, from our gear to our techniques, climbers invented them or appropriated them from elsewhere, refined them, and then made them their own.

It’s pretty cool to think, for example, that to a non-climber “crimp” is something you might do with a curling iron, while to a climber it’s one of our staple terms. When’s the last time you were describing Beta to someone and didn’t use the word “crimp”? It’s impossible, right?

As a writer, you’re best known for your acerbic satire. I was very pleased to see that voice peep up throughout this book. Was it hard to find that balance between sarcasm (a la Ambrose Bierce) and plain speech (a la Webster)?

I tried to make the book accessible to climbers of all experience levels, from just-starting-out to at-it-way-too-long. I figured a good blend of humor and fact would make it accessible to everyone. So, even if you’ve only been climbing a week, you might read something like “harness,” cross-reference the other dictionary words cited within the definition in bold, then by leaping from definition to definition that way end up at “spraylord” or “chuffer,” slanderous slang terms that are no less important to making yourself understood.

What do you think this gaggle of words says about climbing as a culture? Do you think other soul sports have as rich of a language as that of climbing? How so or why not?

I think it says a few things: 1) That climbers really, really care about our sport, enough to have developed, memorized, implemented, and refined these terms that represent our lingua franca 2) That climbing is a huge, incredibly complex sport with a rich history, and with so many facets and such specific gear and techniques that we must have these words in order to communicate with each other, and 3) That climbers are creative, irreverent people — so much of our language can be racy or even semi-slanderous, but it’s infinitely entertaining.

I do think other outdoor sports have a similarly vast grammar, yes. I saw a title on Amazon called “The Riptionary,” with surf-lingo definitions. I don’t know if other outdoor sports—skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, mountain biking, etc.—have similar books, but they ought to. I think you can gain a huge understanding of an activity and its history and culture through the window of its language, and our jargon is very colorful—and continues to evolve.

Is there one word/definition from your book that you can name as your favorite?

“Jingus.” First of all, it just sounds funny. Say it out loud 10 times: jingus, jingus, jingus… And secondly, jingus had so many possible points of origin, and variants—flingus, mingus, schwingus, gymingus—that you couldn’t help but admire how this nonsense-sounding term wormed its way into climber-speak. I mean, if something is disagreeable or heinous, what better way to express your disdain than with a quick “Jingus”? I love it!





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