3 Killer Glossaries for Rock Climbing Terms and Slang

Climbers can sound like they are speaking their own, grunt-based language. To understand the lingo and climbing culture, you must search far and wide, sampling climbing terms of different disciplines and publications. Only then can you assemble the fragments to understand that when your friend tells you to “take,” he’s really telling you “pull in rope ASAP, otherwise I’m going to fall.”


A stalwart for desperate high school students and general knowledge seekers alike, Wikipedia offers the 30,000-foot view on just about everything, climbing included. You can learn about anything from gym climbing to gnarly alpine aid. But, it won’t exactly tell you what is what.

For example, screamers and screw-ons, while next to each other on the list, are about as disparate as any two climbing terms could be. One is a rippable quickdraw meant to lessen impact forces on marginal anchors, usually ice screws. The other is a small, plastic foothold attached to gym walls with screws. The list can be almost too comprehensive to digest, but is definitionally accurate. Approach with caution, but a good resource for that weird word your friend said.


Rock and Ice

A longtime presence in the climbing world, Rock and Ice focuses on outdoor climbing on–you guessed it–rock and ice. Its focus can be pretty alpine-heavy, so it isn’t always easily navigable for new-to-the-sport gym climbers. But, once you start to get vertical outside, it is a reliable and useful source. Their lexicon reflects their focus, but addresses the larger climbing world. Much of the current news in the climbing world requires a lexicon to parse. But, this glossary can help you understand and explain those NatGeo and Outside articles your aunt keeps sending you about your crazy new sport. Rock and Ice is a good place to get your footing before your first time on rock with jargon-spewing friends. Or, it can find its uses at Thanksgiving, explaining an ‘onsight’  or ‘redpoint’ to your parents.


Climbing is another major publication, focusing more exclusively on rock, particularly trad and sport. Though, they do cover indoor climbing and the competition scene more comprehensively than most other outlets. The magazine often has more commentary and satire than others, particularly the column “Unsent.” So you could probably guess that the column’s “18 New Climbing Slang Terms” isn’t meant to be taken seriously. But the list of semi-satirical terminology does reveal more about the sport’s culture than you might expect. The jokes are aimed at the bulk of climbers and their climbing lives, so expect to chuckle about your own gym experiences.

Proceed with caution, and prepare for ridicule if deploying new-found “Unsent” vocab, and, god forbid, don’t be a perma-gumby. When you describe how you sent that awful, greasy granite corner in 90 degree heat, make sure to mention the underfling move onto that nasty splingus above the last bolt. The magazine as a whole holds much more useful information, most of which you would not be made fun of for repeating, apart from other “Unsent” columns or James Lucas’ “Peaches Preaches.” Thanks, James.