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Thuggy, Gumby, Morpho: A Glossary of Weird Rock Climbing Words for Non-Climbers

With the release of Free Solo and the Alpinist, rock climbing welcomed countless novice viewers into the sport. As with any trade or hobby, there are some unique terms and language that are part of the culture of rock climbing, and some of them may seem a little weird to non-climbers.


If you watched Alex Honnold climbing nearly 3,000 feet of sheer granite without a rope, but you weren’t completely certain what he was talking about half of the time, or if you just got into climbing and you’re looking to improve your crag-slang skills, or even if you’re just curious whether climbing slang is as weird as the words you use in your hobby, then this glossary is for you.

Here are some of most unusual climbing terms defined:

Bat hang

The same way a bat would hang, this physical move describes when a climber hangs upside-down only by their feet (on a very large shelf, usually).

Barn-dooring

This movement happens when a climber is accidentally off balance and her body swings outward away from the wall. It’s generally not a good place to be in. Think door swinging open, but you are away from the holds on the rock.

Beta

The sequence of body movements required to complete a climb is called beta. Climbers often share “beta” to help each other finish climbs faster.

Campus

To campus is to move from one hand-hold to another without using your feet. Climbing without your feet can be used for strength training, but it can also happen on actual rock that’s very steep and overhanging.

Chicken-wing

Fried chicken is not only what’s for dinner, it’s also the name of a climbing move where the elbow is bent and above your head like a wing. You can use this move to brace yourself in a crack, or it often happens when the hands and shoulders get tired and you end up chicken-winging against your will. Don’t let go!

Dyno

A movement that is “dynamic”—aka, a jump. When there aren’t enough holds, sometimes you have to jump.

Flapper

To be feared. A flapper is when you accidentally tear a large piece of skin from your finger. Usually, the wound is open and skin is still sticking to you, “flapping” in the air. It’s best to tape that flapper back down and clean up any blood before climbing more.

Image by Pebble Harvester

Gumby

This nickname is often used to refer to a novice or inexperienced climber. A gumby might make rookie mistakes, struggle with basic climbing movements, or do unusual things like wear a harness while walking around—not so comfortable.

Image by Vertical Endeavors

Jug

The biggest hand-hold you could ever dream of is a “jug handle.” If you’re lucky enough to have tons of jugs in a row, then it’s a “jug-haul.”

Morpho

A word more commonly used in Europe, morpho refers to a climb with movements that are more suited towards someone very tall or very short—in other words, specific to body type.

Smearing

Think of smearing butter on bread. When you smear in climbing, you use friction and pressure to hold yourself on the rock without an actual foot-hold. It can feel like spreading butter on the rock with your foot. 

Thuggy

When a climb requires strength, power, and forceful movements and is guaranteed to leave you breathing hard, sweating, and exhausted, it’s thuggy.

Whipper

If you haven’t seen a whipper yet, now is your time. Terrifying even to experts, taking a big “whip” is something even the best climbers try to avoid. A whipper is when a fall is extra long, to the point where the climber is in the air a very long time before the rope catches them.

With these new climbing terms in your repertoire, you’re nearly ready to climb the Dawn Wall on El Capitan and sound like a pro doing it. Share these weird words with your friends or quiz your climbing pals—and, remember, try never to never take a “whip.”

Which of these rock climbing slang words were new to you?

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