Thursday, December 30, 2010

That’s so Skua

Every little corner of the planet seems to have its own dialect, its own vocabulary.  McMurdo is no different.  One of the most fun bits of McMurdo dialect is the word ‘skua.’

A skua is a native Antarctic seabird of the family Stercorariidae...what on earth does that mean?  It is closely related to the gull family, has a wingspan of about four feet and weighs two to four pounds. Skuas are scavengers, or kleptoparasites [thank you Wikipedia] that tend to steal food from other animals (and from people) rather than hunting on their own.  They are a major problem in the region because the steal penguin eggs and have actually wiped out rookeries that were already stressed by global warming (resulting in the extinction of some penguin subspecies).
I decided not to fight him for the day-old hot dogs.

How did ‘skua’ enter the local dialect?  Well, these entertaining aerial pests frequent the station where they are renown for aggressive attempts to steal food, relentlessly chasing and dive-bombing people who carry uncovered food out of the galley.
Note the ankle bracelet -- this character has been in trouble before...

As a noun, skua is something left, donated, or stolen.  Every dorm has a skua bin in the trash area where you can put items you no longer need, but are still useable.  Popular items are sunscreen, shampoo, alarm clocks, and hand-me-down clothes.  Lost and found also feeds into the skua stream after a while, and these bins are periodically emptied and the contents moved to the skua shed where they are sorted and stored.

The skua shed is like a thrift store where everything is free.

Skua Central

As a verb, skua means “to scavenge.”  As in, “I skuaed this alarm clock.”  It can also be used as a term for petty theft, as in, “I totally skuaed that dude’s ipod.”  Luckily, the stealing has been low this year (I have not heard of any), though in some years it has been a problem.

How much for the breaker box?

Lastly, skua is an adjective.  A lot of local arts, crafts and costumes (costumes are very popular here), are made from whatever is lying around.  Such works of art have a certain ‘skua’ property to them.  Late one night in the galley, I saw a woman's video Christmas card.  It included music she had compiled, and art and costumes made from ‘found’ objects (found art).  Her friends commented “That is so skua.”  Which is a high compliment down here.

Had my eye on that steak sauce.

Interesting skua fact, which I skuaed from the local newspaper:

Skuas have made it as far as the South Pole:  Non-Human Life Form Seen at the Pole

Stay warm Northerners.

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