From Our Archives: Anne Coray on Defending the Home Turf–Alaska Style

I had Visqueen, Blazo, and a .22 strapped to my snowmachine.

If you were born in Alaska or grew up here, this sentence makes perfect sense. But even if you’ve only been here a few years, you’ve probably had ample time to learn the lingo. Outside editors, however, usually have a different take. Readers won’t know what you’re talking about, is the usual caveat.

My argument is that keeping a few brand names and colloquialisms adds local color to our writing. What would Faulkner have done, if he’d been spinning stories set in the North?

Looking again at that first sentence, an Outside (to use Alaska speak) editor would probably suggest “plastic sheeting” in lieu of Visqueen, “white gas” instead of Blazo. Damn, though—that’s not what we say up here. Okay, I can concede on the white gas, but plastic sheeting just isn’t in our vocabulary. Then there’s the .22—who needs “rifle” to follow? Tacking on the explanatory noun seems redundant and unnecessary. As for snowmachine, I’ve been told by my New York editor (my younger brother, a former acquisitions editor at Syracuse U. Press) that most non-Alaskans would consider this “a machine used for making snow.” But I stubbornly refuse to use the word snowmobile in my writing.

Besides losing local color, another problem of giving in to these kinds of edits is that it makes for lazy readers. What ever happened to the practice of sleuthing out meanings based on context, or simply looking up words that are unfamiliar? With Internet now sitting in most people’s laps, how hard is it to Google “Visqueen”?

Don’t get me wrong—certainly may editors raise good points and the writer has a degree of obligation to his or her audience. We don’t want to confuse people; neither do we want to spoon-feed them.

I’d love to hear from the rest of you on this, with specific examples of words or phrases you’ve had to fight for. Or, to put in another way, when you’ve decided to stick to your aught-six.

Anne Coray’s latest collection of poetry is A Measure’s Hush, published by Boreal Books. She lives on Lake Clark and her website is

2 thoughts on “From Our Archives: Anne Coray on Defending the Home Turf–Alaska Style”

  1. An illustrator for one of my children's books put brick chimneys on houses in the Alaskan bush, & drew a cat on the bed (I suggested a dog). Another placed snow covered trees high up on Denali. I'm glad in both cases, my input was consulted well beforehand. A regional vocabulary is what makes one place unique from another. I wouldn't give it up.

  2. Lynn Lovegreen

    I've had to defend words like Outside to editors, but they usually give in once I explain.

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