This year, the shit show that is 2020, is the first year that Burning Man has not taken place since its inception on San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986. In homage to the event I would have been attending if it weren’t for COVID-19, I want to gift something to humanity at large and anyone who is curious to learn more about the awesomeness of Burning Man!
I’ve read so many “Burning Man guide” articles this week researching information for this post. While most grasped the general concept, they all missed some key explanations and lacked some very important details. Some even gave misinformation, like suggesting, “decorate your bike with a feather boa” and “wear loose glitter”…all major no-nos! (*See Leave No Trace & MOOP below) So, I ultimately decided to make my own helpful info guide. This post is going to focus on the language of Burning Man. How can you truly understand the ethos of something if you don’t speak the language? In classic Burning Man fashion, the event has many unique colloquialisms and slangs specific to itself. In the spirit of education, I have composed a detailed, hopefully all encompassing, list of words, phrases, and abbreviations that are commonly used at the event.
My biggest source for this article was Burningman.org, you know, the people who put on the big show…they truly are a wealth of Information and know the most about the actual event itself. (*see Jackrabbit Speaks below) I am not associated with, or representative of Burning Man, the Burning Man Project, Decommodification LLC, Paper Man LLC, Black Rock City LLC, or the Black Rock Arts Foundation.
All that being said, here’s the list of important Burning Man vernacular. Some of the descriptions have been written verbatim from the Burning Man website, others are my interpretation/explanation of the meaning. In a perfect world, everyone would know about these before they attend their first burn, knowledge is power! Think of this work as an unofficial glossary/Devil’s Dictionary. It will allow you to familiarize yourself with event specific terms that might otherwise cause confusion if you were having a conversation and they came up.
Additional resource guides/links listed below so yo can continue to explore and learn more about the transformative event that is That Thing In The Desert!
Burning Man Unofficial Glossary
ANCESTORS: “Spiraling, tornado-like dust plumes that traverse the playa, produced by wind and thermal phenomena. It is a traditional belief of the Paiute people that these plumes represent the spirits of their ancestors; they find the term “dust devil” to be offensive”. (1)
ARCTICA: “Where participants in BRC go to buy ice. Located in Center Camp, with satellite locations in the 3:00 and 9:00 Plazas. Proceeds from ice sales are donated to local charities.” (1) One of the two locations on Playa where money is required. Ice is reasonably priced, around $3 a bag last I checked, and available in chip or block form.
ART BIKE: “Kissing cousin to the art car, the art bike is a decorated or “mutated” bicycle, and is the preferred method of transporting oneself around Black Rock City.” (1) There are two main reasons to decorate your bike. Firstly, you get to participate in the art of Burning Man by being art and radically expressing yourself. Second, it allows you to distinguish it from others in a crowd of bikes. Almost everyone has a bicycle to get around playa, that’s around 70K bikes…and the majority of people make some sort of modification or enhancements to the appearance, especially lights to been seen at night. Bicycles are a large part of BM culture.
ART CARS: Proper name MUTANT VEHICLE. “A Mutant Vehicle is a unique, motorized creation that either shows little or no resemblance to their original form, or to any standard street vehicle, or is out of context from it’s normal setting (a pirate ship or space ship on the desert, for example). Mutant Vehicles can be built from scratch or are radically, stunningly,and safely modified from their base vehicle.” (1)
ARTery: “The artist resource center in Black Rock City that facilitates the placement and display of art on the playa during the event. Also provides information to participants about the art and artists.” (1) Great place to visit/volunteer to learn more about specific artists/pieces. They also have information on what art structures will be burned and when.
AVENUES: “The straight, radial streets that radiate out from the Man, named to follow the clock face.” (1) These would be the numbered roads. The avenues run from 2-10 and are straight lines, laid out exactly as they are found on a standard analog clock.
These streets are the same numbers every year.
BACON: “A type of cured, smoked pork belly, uncommonly popular among non-vegan Burners. Can also be used as an adjective to denote approval, i.e., “that is SO bacon.”” (1)
BAKER BEACH: “San Francisco beach where Burning Man originated in 1986 (1) Larry Harvey said he wanted to “burn a man” so he and his friend Jerry James got some people together on Baker Beach and decided to light a wooden “Man” effigy on fire to celebrate the summer solstice.
BAR CAMP: Camps that function very similarly to default bars, minus no money exchange. You still need to have your ID to prove you are 21+ to drink. The gift of these camps is alcohol in some form and a mix of entertainment: dance area, chill area, activity. Important to note, bar camps are bring your own cup!
BLACK ROCK: “A large dark rock formation at the north end of the playa.” (1)
BLACK ROCK CITY: Often abbreviated to BRC. “The annual, temporary city created by the community of Burning Man participants.” (1)
BLACK ROCK GEYSER: “A non-potable water truck engaged in wetting down the roads for dust control. Sometimes pursued by pedestrians and cyclists in a desperate and ill-advised quest for thermal relief.” (1) The reason for these water trucks is an attempt to minimize the dust from the breakdown of the playa as people walk, ride, and drive the city grid.
BLACK ROCK RANGER: Ranger for short, aka Khakis. “A volunteer guardian of the principles and shared values of Black Rock City; empowered to address safety concerns, mediate disputes, and resolve conflicts when they cannot be resolved by the persons involved.” (1)
BLINKIES: People who wear a bunch of flashing LEDs or other bright “blinking” lights that are distracting to look at because of all the light-up activity on their person.
BLM: “Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that administers public land including the Black Rock Desert.” (1) You read that correctly, Burning Man takes place on federal land, and falls under federal jurisdiction, which supersedes Nevada State law.
BMHQ: Burning Man Head Quarters. Where the Administration Team for Burning Man Project is located. They recently relocated to the Mission Creek neighborhood in San Francisco, just off Alabama Street.
BMIR: “Burning Man Information Radio, 94.5 FM, the Voice of the Man, serving the greater Black Rock City area. In the event of an on-site emergency, tune into BMIR for rumor-free updates and advisories to surf the storm to a sane conclusion.” (1) Broadcasting 24/7, especially helpful when entering/exiting the event as they give live updates on gate times, playa conditions and other important information. They also play great music that covers practically every genre.
BMOrg: “Short for Burning Man Organization, this term is actually a common misnomer. The actual name for the nonprofit that operates the Burning Man event is “Burning Man Project.”” (1) The website for the entity is burningman.org so some people use the term BMOrg as a shorthand reference to the web page.
BMP: “Burning Man Project, the non-profit organization that manages the Burning Man event in Black Rock City and other Burning Man activities around the world.” (1)
BOOSH CANNON: Giant flame throwing fire cannons on mutant vehicles, camp signs and art pieces named for the sound that they make when ignited.
BOX OFFICE, THE: Aka. Will Call. Here is where you can pick up your ticket if you chose the option to pick it up in person on playa. Here is where you would also go if there was a problem with a ticket upon entry. You can leave tickets for people to pick up as well. You must have all your tickets before you can go through the Gate.
BRC: “Black Rock City, the temporary metropolis that is home to the Burning Man event.” (1)
BUILD DAY: When artists/camps plan to have a specific day where they set up the infrastructure of their theme camp/artwork. Often times, artists/camps will have an allotment of early arrival tickets that allow folks to get on playa before the event starts to resurrect the city and build all the things. These people are volunteers who assemble amazing sound stages, incredible art projects and giant shade structures.
BURGIN: Sometimes spelled “Birgin”. The mash up of “Burn” and “Virgin”. Used to describe a first year attendee. Someone who has previously never been to Burning Man.
BURN NIGHT: Saturday evening of the event, the night when the man is burnt.
BURN PLATFORM: “A protective barrier placed under fire installations to prevent discoloration of the playa surface (see “Burn scar”).” (1)
BURN SCAR: “A lasting discoloration of the playa surface due to a fire built directly on the lakebed. A kind of environmental damage that is prevented by using elevated burn platforms and burn mats.” (1)
BURN, THE: “Reference to the actual event, and activity, of burning the Burning Man statue.” (1)
BURNER: “One who pursues a way of life based on the values reflected in the Ten Principles of Burning Man.” (1) You do not have to go to Burning Man to be a Burner. Consequently, just because you attended Burning Man, doesn’t mean you are automatically a Burner. The only determination of a Burner is if they embrace and conduct themselves according to the 10 principles in their everyday lives.
BURNER BOOTS: Proper foot wear is necessary for BM. The event covers a lot of ground, and the soil is highly alkaline and permeates everything. *See Playa Foot. A big part of Burner culture involves large, chunky boots, sometimes platforms, that are resistant to the elements. Bonus points for crazy shoe laces, Shwings, gnarly buckles and LEDs.
BURNER PROFILE: Found on the official BM website, this his how you register for the event and the ability to buy tickets. With out a Burner Profile, you will not be able to participate in any ticket sales for the event. You only have to create a profile once, and you can access/edit the information at anytime. *Make sure you delivery address is correct, as this is where you tickets will be sent! This is also a way to list your personal Burner information, like playa name and camp, as well as a way to join on playa volunteer groups.
BURNIER THAN THOU: Some people believe they are superior Burners and know what the “right way” to burn is. In the same breath they will tell you “it was better last year”. Often times these people feel like they have a deeper connection to the playa and a better understanding of the 10 principles then most.
CACOPHONY SOCIETY: “An influential source of many of the concepts and principles of Burning Man, the Cacophony Society was “a randomly gathered network of individuals united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the mainstream.” Many of Burning Man’s founders were members of the San Francisco group.” (1)
CAFE: “The Center Camp Cafe in Black Rock City, purveyors of fine coffee and tea drinks. The Café is the single largest volunteer community on the playa. ” (1) One of only two places on playa that requires cold hard cash. Open 24/7 and always dappled with entertaining characters and awesome art. The Cafe at Center Camp is a quirky and constant oasis providing shade and refreshments for event attendees. Last time I was there they offered coffee, espresso, chai, lemonade, and electrolyte replacement drinks. No water.
CAMP ENVY: Always the largest camp NOT on the playa. A Camp for those who can only burn in spirit. This is a great resource for people that want to see whats going on as there is a live webcam stream set up on the esplanade of the playa that makes you feel like you are there. Camp Envy is a welcoming group of active participants all trying to help each other feel that Burner magic despite not attending the event in person. I joined camp Envy in 2019 and was very grateful for a very positive experience with my fellow orphans.
CAR-B-QUE: In one of the oldest running Villages, Whirligig aka Gigsville, they have a tradition of setting an entire car on fire, and keeping the blaze going all week long.
CENTER CAMP: “Large circular area and structures located in the center of Black Rock City.” (1) Massive circus tent like structure with flags on top, and flanked with rows of bike racks that is approximately one square acre. Comprised of a 24/7 Cafe, Playa Info, Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR) as well as Directory, Playa Bulletin Boards, Lost & Found and Volunteer Resources.
CHASING SHADOWS: “Dashing across the playa in pursuit of brightly burning objects, only to arrive after the crescendo, or when the object has already burned to ashes, and then doing it again and again to the point of exhaustion.” (1)
CHICKS DIG GUYS IN SKIRTS: This phrase is said in all seriousness. If I had a dollar for every Kilt I’ve seen on playa, I’d have a lot of dollars! With the social norms of the default world, a man wearing women’s clothing can expect a broad range of reactions from bewildered to antagonistic. However, in the desert an awesome genderqueer fashion scene is supreme. On playa men are extra encouraged to experiment with alternative forms of self expressions through personal fashion choices. Men choosing to wear skirts, or other traditionally female clothing, are revered because it is a public display of open-mindedness bucking the ways of the default world.
CHILL CAMP: A welcome oasis in the dust. Offering an array of options from hammocks, shaded lounges with misters, and/or relaxing music and meditation. A place where you can hang out, take a nap and escape the heat for a bit.
CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY: 1 of the 10 principles. “We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.” (1)
COLLEXODUS: “The annual process of collecting unused supplies from departing participants for use by the event crew during teardown and clean up.” (1)
CORE: “Acronym for Circle of Regional Effigies, a group of burn installations traditionally built by Burning Man regional groups.” (1)
COMMUNAL EFFORT: 1 of the 10 principles. “Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.” (1)
COMMUNITY: Black Rock City is just that, a city. It has residents. The participants that build that city also build its infrastructure and thus form a community. This community of Burners is close knit and spans the globe. Its collective creativity and problem solving abilities continue to amaze and inspire technology, pop culture and social justice efforts. COSTUME CAMP: Camps set up for the purpose of helping others be living art pieces. Here attendees have the chance to swap out their clothes for fresh new dusty duds. These are great places for anyone who wants to up their outfit game at the Burn and for virgins who didn’t know what to expect and want to embrace radically self expression. Often have fashion shows so you catwalk the runway and show off your new look.
CULTURE SHOCK: “A state of melancholy, anger or frustration which sets in when trying to readjust to “normal” life after one has attended Burning Man.” (1)
DAISY DUCKING: In reference to the lovable Disney Character Daisy Duck, who does not wear any pants like her counterpart Donald. This is when a female attendee wears a top, but is naked from the waist down. This term is the female equivalent to Shirt Cocker.
DANGER RANGER: “Founder and iconic hero of the Black Rock Rangers. Michael Mikel aka M2 aka Danger Ranger is Burning Man’s Director of Genetic Programming. Some claim he possesses near borderline supernatural powers, including the ability to bi-locate and appear at two places simultaneously. In 1992 he founded the Black Rock Rangers. He also created the first Burning Man mailing list/database, produced the first issue of the Black Rock Gazette, established the Burning Man Archive, and drove the first art car to the Black Rock Desert. Michael functions as the guiding light of San Francisco’s famous Cacophony Society.” (1)
DARKWAD: aka Speed Bump. Formerly Darktard. “Anyone who walks or rides on the playa at night without adequate lighting on the front and back of his/her person or vehicle. See also: “Survival-challenged.” (1) This is a person with out enough lights to be seen at night, especially by art cars & bicyclists. While this is a person choice to not illuminate, it poses a safety hazard and is ill advised to be a Darkwad as the meaning is derogatory.
DECOMMODIFICATION: 1 of the 10 principles. “In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.” (1) This at it’s core means no promoting of goods or services on playa. Take away any influence of a corporate world or big business. It goes so far as to encourage participants to cover up the logos on rented box trucks.
DECOMPRESSION: aka Decomp. “A party held one month after Burning Man to give participants a brief chance to return to Black Rock City. Offers relief from the Reality Bends.” (1) A concept that implies surfacing from a deep underwater experience, a way to balance the pressure. This aptly named event is held locally in cities across the USA, and a means to reconnect and revive some of that playa sparkle magic. This is also a great way to introduce people to Burning Man without actually going to BRC.
DEEP PLAYA: “In Black Rock City, the area of open playa behind the Man, particularly the outer realms near the perimeter trash fence.” (1) Filled with many art works, pop-up bars, roaming art car dance parties, and even port potties, deep playa is a wealth of space and structures just waiting to be explored. I like to cruise out to deep playa to get away from the crowd and I usually spend a day riding around exploring art in Deep Playa early on in the event because many of the structures will be burned, and gone forever as the days pass.
DEFAULT WORLD: Aka Reality Camp. “The rest of the world that is not Black Rock City during the Burning Man event.” (1) Instead of saying “the real world” the term default world is used because the world of Burning Man is very real.
DEHYDRATION: “Medical condition that results from not drinking enough water.” (1)
DMV: “The team of dedicated volunteers who review and register Mutant Vehicles, giving them permission to drive on the playa during the event.” (1) Yes, Burning Man really does have everything, right down to its very own DMV. In classic Burning Man spirit, this entity is far more fun then the one in the default world. Art cars/mutant vehicles show up early in the event to get licensed to drive their cars on playa. If the car doesn’t meet the established requirements, it has to be parked and not driven during the event. This is one of my favorite places to hang out at night early in the event, you get to see the cars up close and you have a chance to talk to the drivers/creators and find out about fun events and DJ sets they plan to host.
DONNER AWARD: “Annual award given to the individual/group, who pushes the limits of personal survival through stupidity, inattention or just bad luck during the event.” (1) This is a reference to the Donner Party, pioneers that were delayed by a string of mishaps, that met a tragic fate when they were snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains and ultimately resorted to cannibalism to survive. This is not an award you want to win.
DOOBIE LANE: “A folk-art, monument-lined road near Gerlach, built by Doobie Williams, who passed away at age 76 in 1995. Also known as Guru Road.” (1)
DON’T TELL ME HOW TO BURN: The playa equivalent of “Don’t tell me how to live my life.” A declaration that you are a free agent and no one is going to hijack your burn, boss you around or bring you down.
DPW: “Black Rock City’s Department of Public Works (DPW) is the workforce dedicated to building the physical infrastructure of Black Rock City, the place Burning Man calls home in the Black Rock Desert. The DPW works side by side with all of the departments within the Burning Man Project. We also work with Burning Man participants, cooperating agencies, and our worldwide community to ensure that Black Rock City becomes a reality, and then vanishes without a trace.” (1)
DUST ANGEL: Like a snow angle, but instead made in the dust. Often performed at the last Greeter Gate after you get your wristband put on. A must for all first time attendees.
EARLY ARRIVAL PASS: An additional ticket required along with the standard GA ticket that allows you the ability to arrive before the event officially starts, with the purpose & intention building camp, art pieces and the general city infrastructure.
EARTH GUARDIANS: “A subgroup of Burning Man participants who work with the BLM to care for the Black Rock Desert and are trained in Leave No Trace techniques. Earth Guardians inspire, inform and encourage our fellow Black Rock City citizens to apply the Leave No Trace principles to life in our temporary desert home and to leave positive traces. Each year we try to think of ways to stimulate the Burning Man community to appreciate the Black Rock environment, embrace LNT and greener practices in their own creative ways.” (1)
EL WIRE: “Electroluminscent Wire. Cool, glowing stuff used to make moving objects and sculptures out of light.” (1) Battery operated thin light rope available in multiple lengths. Round and flexible, with continues light “wire” instead of individual LEDs, which makes it ideal for use in clothing or costumes. Can sometimes produce a very quiet, but high pitch hum.
ESPLANADE: “In Black Rock City, the innermost ring road facing the Man.” (1) This is the road that separates the open playa from the city grid. The Esplanade is highly sought after camp frontage and one of the most heavily trafficked areas of BRC. Think Main street. It is the smallest ring of the city and therefor provides the fasted way to travel from A to B because it is the shortest distance without cutting across playa.
EVERYWHERE: “Burning Man Project’s presence in Black Rock City, a locus for promoting the Project’s year-round programs in art, education, and civic involvement worldwide.” (1)
EXODUS: “The process and organization of the mass participant departure from BRC at the end of the event.” (1) Exodus doesn’t have a specific time, it is the process of many people driving off the playa and onto those same one lane roads you took to get in until you get back to 80. The process can be long and take multiple hours. Sometimes, not always. Depends on when you leave. Be prepared, have water, food, googles, dust masks, and warm clothes easily available just incase. Turn off your engine when they are pulsing lanes.
EXPLODING MAN: “A legendary fireworks performance.” (1) Every year there are fireworks better then the previous year. Each time, it’s always next level. This is the last of the entertainment offerings before the man is ignited and his fire glow is cheered by the crowd.
FALLOPIAN TUBES: “The two long roads that connect Black Rock City’s Gate with the principal grid of numbered and lettered streets.” (1)
FAST: “Fire Art Safety Team. Supports artists employing open fire or flame effects.” (1)
FESTIVAL: Typically referring to EDM Music Festivals, this implies that it is a for profit event with vendors where people have paid money to watch a specify performer. A Spectator experience. Burning Man is *NOT* a festival, and calling it one is viewed as derogatory. It is an experimental community. It is a city built by its citizens. It is not an event put on by a production company. It’s a place governed by 10 principles that most of the attendees practice in their everyday lives. “We don’t book acts or provide entertainment. What happens here is up to you! There is no corporate sponsorship. You are entering a “decommodified” space that values who you are, not what you have. You are expected to collaborate, be inclusive, creative, connective and clean up after yourself. Participate actively as a citizen of Black Rock City.” (1)
FIRE CONCLAVE: “A group of volunteers who bring the gift of fire performance to Black Rock City each year, creating the largest gathering of fire dancers in the world on the night of the Burn.” (1) Something truly awesome to watch. They spread out and form a full ring just in-front of the first row of people gathered for the Man Burn. Then they perform synchronized dancing and really wow the crown with their skills. If anyone wants to learn more about safely playing with fire, the Fire Conclave is one of your best resources on playa.
FIRE DANCING: “The art of dancing with fire, usually in the form of poi, staff, hoops, clubs, fans, or other devices.” (1) Basically, anyone who dances with fire is a total badass, after all, the even is called BURNING MAN!
FIRST CAMP: “Historically, the camp where Burning Man founders reside in Black Rock City. The term “first” refers not to rank or precedent, but to the fact that founder Will Roger was for many years the first person to arrive on site and set up his camp on the open playa.” (1)
FLAMBE LOUNGE: “An off-playa Burning Man art lounge gathering held in San Francisco.” (1) The event formerly known as Precompression. Usually held mid-June, at some really cool venues over the years. It is the biggest hype man of events in SF leading up to The Burn, designed to get everyone excited.
FLAME EFFECT: “The combustion of solids, liquids, or gases to produce thermal, physical, visual, or audible phenomena before an audience. This includes all flames that are automated, switched, pressurized or have any other action than simply being lit on fire, as well as projects using propane or other liquid or gaseous fuels.” (1)
FLUFFER: “Volunteers need love too! Because Burning Man is run largely by tireless volunteers, it’s important to keep them happy and feeling good. Fluffers bring water, sunscreen, and give massages and TLC to artists, fellow campers, performers, and all other volunteers.”
FLY RANCH: “A gorgeous, wild 3,800-acre property located twenty-one miles north of Gerlach in Washoe County, Nevada. Thanks entirely to the gifts of generous donors, Burning Man Project was able to purchase Fly Ranch in 2016. What if we had a place to experiment with and apply the Ten Principles 365 days a year? That’s the question we’ll answer at Fly Ranch. Learn more on the website. As a year-round site, Fly Ranch has the potential to expand Burning Man Project’s activities and existing programs, as well as amplify Burning Man’s cultural impact into the wider world beyond Black Rock City.” (1)
FOMO: “Fear of Missing Out, a harmless mental disorder caused by the overwhelming scope of things to do and see in Black Rock City. May lead to sleep deprivation.” (1) You don’t want to miss anything, so you push yourself to the limit trying to “do it all”. You can not see everything, but you should thoroughly enjoy everything you see!
FOUNDERS: “Historically, the six founders of Black Rock City LLC: Larry Harvey, Marian Goodell, Harley Dubois, Michael Mikel (Danger Ranger), Will Roger, and Crimson Rose.” (1) Depending on how far back someone has been Burning, they might want to debate this list and want to use the term “founders” more loosely to include a few extra names, such as: John Law, Kevin Evans, and/or Jerry James.
FUCK YOUR BURN: An irreverent greeting, both a way to say hello and goodbye, popular among event attendees. There are mixed feelings about this phrase. Some interpret it to mean “Fuck You” and others look at it like “have a nice day”. The original sentiment, I believe, was as a way to radically express yourself on playa that is taboo in the default world. It’s a way to flip the script on social convention because at Burning Man, you’re free to try something completely different.
GATE, THE: The final checkpoint that is at the end of Gate Road. A physical threshold where you stop, have your ticket taken, and your wrist band put on. This is also where you will meet the final set of greeters who will quickly check your vehicle to make sure you have enough supplies to survive and are not bringing in contraband or sneaking anyone in. You might hop out and make a dust angel or ring a gong upon crossing through.
GATE ROAD: “The path connecting Black Rock City’s gate to Route 34, the nearest paved road.” (1)
GAYBORHOOD: aka Gayburbs, Gayburbia or even the Gay Ghetto. This is an all inclusive Queer space. Something for the guys, gals and nonbinary pals! The area is made up of over 70 camps that identify as LGBTQIA and Allies: Gender Blender, Glam Cocks, Comfort & Joy, Camp Beaverton, BAAAHS, Mystopia, Celestial Bodies, Vietnamese Iced Coffee Experience, Dickstracted Camp, and Paradise Motel are a few of the staples year after year. I have camped in the Gayborhood for 3 Burns and it’s full of so much diversity, from Art Car camps, massages/eye spas, Iced Coffees, snow cones to amazing parties and an active nightlife. Everyone greets you with smiles, there are beautiful people walking around in awesome costumes and great music and entertainment that goes late. Guaranteed to have a gay old time when hanging in this hood.
GEO DOME: Geodesic dome, a hemispherical lattice-shelled structure. The triangular shaped elements that make up the body of the dome are structurally rigid and very stable, making geo domes able to withstand very heavy loads for their size. They also break down quickly and take up minimal storage space. Making them ideal shade, lounge and climbing spaces for BM.
GIFTING: 1 of the 10 principles. “A core tenet of the Burning Man ethos, gifting is the act of giving something (material or otherwise) to another person without any expectation of receiving something in return.” (1) This is not to be confused with trading or bartering. You give freely. It’s more based on the concept of pay-it-forward.
GOGGLES: Necessary protective eyewear. Designed to keep the particles out of your eyes during the many dust storms on playa. Make sure your goggles do not have any air vents and they create a seal against your skin for best results.
GREETER: “Volunteers who welcome all arriving participants to Black Rock City.” (1) They are present at gate stations along Gate Road. They will process your tickets, give you your wrist bands and do a quick search of your vehicle/supplies to make sure you are able to survive the trip for a week and that no one is sneaking into the event.
GREY WATER: “”Used” water that has been contaminated by soap, toothpaste, playa dust, food residue, or similar pollutants. Though not as nasty as the “black water” of human waste, it needs to be carefully collected and removed from Black Rock City, never left on the playa.” (1)
GURU LANE: “A folk-art monument-lined road near Gerlach, built by Doobie Williams, who passed away at age 76 in 1995.” (1)
HEAT EXHAUSTION: “A more serious form of dehydration.” (1)
HELCO: “Fictional corporation which attempted to buy Burning Man in 1996.” (1)
HEXAYURT: Light weight structure used by Red Cross and other government agencies for refugee housing. A naturally cooler option of shelter as the building material is covered in silver finish that reflects the suns rays, making it a great shelter option for BM. The Hexayurt is an easy to follow design that can be made for about $400-500, and reused time and again. Fun Fact, Vinay Gupta invented the basic shape for classic hexayurts and a number of variations, and placed it in the Public Domain.
HOME: Word used to describe BRC as a place and entity among other Burners. Often the Greeters will say, “welcome home” when you come through the gate checks. It embodies the sense of feeling complete or “at home” being on playa as a citizen of BRC, as a participant at Burning Man. Your spirit is forever connected and nostalgic for the magic you have felt from past times of being physically on playa.
HOT SPRINGS: “There are number of geothermal springs in the Black Rock area, but all are closed to the public during the Burning Man event.” (1) This is true. Some people think that the Hot Springs are a myth, but they are real…and there is a way you can see them during the event: volunteer with the Earth Guardians! They patrol the area to make sure no one is disturbing the Hot Springs.
ICS: “Incident Command System, an action plan to be used by the Rangers in the event of serious emergency.” (1)
IMMEDIACY: 1 of the 10 principles. “Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.” (1)
IN DUST WE TRUST: Embrace the dust and then it no longer bothers you, but becomes apart of your identity. Lean into the primal feeling seeking fun and trust that the playa winds will blow you where you need to be.
JACKRABBIT SPEAKS: “Email newsletter produced by Burning Man organization, sometimes referred to as the JRS. You should subscribe to it.” (1)
JAVA COW: “Community legend of a man-cow who appeared with hot coffee at sunrise on the morning of the Burn, asking the question: “Do you want cream or sugar?”
KHAKIS: “Durable, tan-colored clothing which has become the standard uniform of the Rangers. Not to be confused with the ubiquitous tan-colored slacks worn by business-casual office drones the world over.” (1)
KIDSVILLE: “A kid-friendly village for families bringing their youngsters to Black Rock City.” (1) Yes, there are children at Burning Man, a good amount actually. I have even seen infants in arms, like baby-babies, no bullshit. I really enjoy interacting with kids at BM, their minds are able to let go of the default world a lot faster then adults, so they have an amazing perspective of the event.
LAG BOLTS: A “work smarter, not harder” version of Rebar. Requires an electric drill, but is faster to anchor structures/lines, and way easier to remove. Worth the investment, make sure to get the 12in screws.
LAMP POSTS: “The series of vertical lighting fixtures which line walkways and delineate areas of BRC.” (1) Found at at the popular plazas and then lining the walk from Esplanade to The Man.
LAMPLIGHTERS: “The volunteer group that lights kerosene lanterns each night of the Burning Man event to illuminate the esplanade and promenades, providing participants with valuable navigational aids.” (1) Made up of over 200 full time members and over 1,000 kerosene lanterns, the Lamplighters are charged with mission of lighting the city nightly. Every single night of the event they ceremoniously put up lanterns at sunset and taking them down at dawn. Festivities kicking off nightly with a 4pm lighting ceremony followed by Lamplighters and Volunteers following behind Luminaries that “make way for the lamp lighters” with a call and response, to which participants answer back with “Thank You, Lamplighters”.
LARRY: “Larry Harvey, Burning Man founder and Chief Philosophical Officer.” (1) Larry, aka The Hat. Almost always seen wearing his big white cowboy hat. Larry passed away from complications after suffering a stroke in 2018…the void was greatly felt throughout the Burning Man Community.
LEAVE NO TRACE: Aka LNT. 1 of the 10 principles. “A philosophy learned during a rigorous 3-day back-country training expedition, during which participants are taught to clean up after themselves. No really, we’re serious about this.” (1) This is one of the biggest components of BM. They even have a special name for Litter: MOOP. There are hundreds of volunteers that remain on playa after the event to ensure that there is nothing left behind, and I mean nothing. They go through the playa’s surface, that covers the whole pentagonal region thats ben outline and defined as boundaries, with rakes, magnets and screens to filter out and clean up any and all things that are not natural to the playas ecosystem. They even publish a report on how well Camps left their spaces, which can greatly influence placement and ability to participate in future Burns. They take this very seriously, and so should you.
LINE WALK: “A form of MOOP cleanup executed by a group, walking in a line-abreast formation and collecting all debris in its path.” (1) A very detailed mood sweep.
LLC, THE: “Black Rock City, LLC, the legal entity that operates the Burning Man event in Black Rock City. A subsidiary of the nonprofit Burning Man Project.” (1)
MAN, THE: “Term used for the Burning Man statue.” (1) The wooden effigy. Located in the very middle of playa. Built tall enough to been seen almost anywhere in the city, and act as a guiding landmark to get you centered.
MAN BASE: “The structure at the base of the Man.” (1) Popular location to pick as a meeting point with friends because of central location.
MAN BURN: Refers to the tall wooden effigy is set aflame, which happens on the Saturday of the event.
MAN BURNS IN X# DAYS: The countdown to the big show, the Man Burn. It’s a way to measure time; often used to point out that it is running out. It stresses the importance of being organized, making a plan and sticking to deadlines in order to get the necessary work done. Saying it after camp planning meetings is a way to stress the urgency that projects get completed as the event approaches. The official BM site has a countdown that details the weeks, bi-weekly meetings and weekend workdays left before that main event on Saturday night.
MEDIA WRANGLERS: “Members of the Burning Man Media Team. Their mission is to cajole the media into presenting fresh and interesting stories about the event.” (1)
MONKEY HUT: A portable Quonset. A Building made of lightweight shade materials, often a tarp or silver aluminum and a PVC semicylindrical cross section. This type of shade structure is sturdy and can withstand strong winds. It is also fairly inexpensive to build and light weight making it easy to transport.
MOONWALKER: “A participant who has become unaware of his environment and wanders the playa in a dream state. May need to be informed that the event has ended and he needs to go home.” (1)
MOOP: “Matter Out Of Place. Litter, debris, rubbish.” (1) It can be used as a noun, to describe litter, or as a verb like littering. When someone is MOOPing they are usually unknowingly doing so. It is common practice for Burners to call one another out for MOOPing, and also for all participants at BRC to carry MOOP bags just for debris they find while on playa.
MOOP SWEEP: Traditionally done at the very end of the events festivities, this is the act of carefully inspecting the area for any matter out of place and making sure the area has no trace that people were there. Common tools used to conduct the sweep include sifting screens and magnetic rakes.
MUTANT VEHICLE: “A motorized conveyance that is radically, stunningly, (usually) permanently, and safely modified. Larry Harvey likens Mutant Vehicles to “sublimely beautiful works of art floating across the playa like a Miro painting.” Licensed by the DMV, these vehicles are an important part of the Burning Man experience.” (1)
NEWBIE: “Any person who is attending Burning Man for the first time. Can often be recognized by the call they utter when coming out of the Porta-Potties on Tuesday: “That wasn’t so bad.”” (1)
NO SPECTATORS: “Another central tenet of the Burning Man philosophy. By blurring the line between audience and performer, everybody is a superstar at Burning Man.” (1) Don’t just stand there or show up expecting to be entertained. Bring your own fun to share with everyone. Be an active citizen of Black Rock City, explore, participate and enjoy!
NOSE TATORS: “Playa dust nostril plugs that form during the event; spelling derived from a contraction of “No Spectators.”” (1)
OBTAINIUM: “Any useful and valued material which is found or obtained for free.” (1) Sometimes you find ground scores. Other times you are gifted something.
ON A MISSION: The playa is full of endless hours of distractions. I have even been derailed from my 10 minute round trip to the bathroom by some snow-cones and a Beatles mashup dance party for half the day. Telling someone you are “on a mission” indicates you can not allow yourself to get distracted going from A to B, when normally you would otherwise oblige the amazing experience being offered.
OPEN PLAYA: “The portion of the playa that is within our pentagonal event space, but is used exclusively for art installations rather than camping space.” (1) The area in the middle all around the man to the Esplanade, and then all they way out in Deep Playa to the Trash Fence. Everything outside of the gridded “city” layout.
ORPHAN: Someone who can not attend that years Burn.
PARTICIPANT: “Uh, that would be you…” (1) Don’t just stand there, be apart of the event. The people attending all work together to make the city possible, by building the infrastructure then interacting with it. You are the event, you are part of the magic. Go do all the things!
PARTICIPATION: 1 of the 10 principles. “Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.” (1)
PERIMETER: “During the term of the Burning Man event, the city is surrounded by a perimeter fence, with controlled entry and exit procedures.” (1) This is a barrier outlining the total space of the event. and includes the Trash Fence in Deep Playa. The perimeter is patrolled by many different agencies that try to ensure that people don’t accidentally ride off away from the event and get lost.” (1)
PICKELBACK: “A traditional beverage of the playa, consisting of a shot of whiskey followed by a chaser of pickle juice.” (1)
PISS CLEAR: “The 2nd newspaper to appear in BRC. The name is derived from the survival axiom “Drink so much water that you piss clear.”” (1) In order to make sure you are hydrating enough for the desert conditions, Piss Clear.
PLACEMENT: Aka Playa Address. The act of being assigned a dedicated space on Playa by the BMOrg and Placers through a very strategic process. This is basically how you know where you are going when you arrive at the event and also allows you to get personalized swag made up with your specific location. This process is not required, but is helpful. Some camps are located in the general area year after year, other camps are more fluid on location within the city. All placements are done with great intention, for example, camps that are big sound camps are traditionally placed on the 2 & 10 areas as to not disturb the majority of people who like to try and get sleep at night.
“To register for placement, complete a Camp Placement Questionnaire by the set deadline via Burner Profiles. Please also read our criteria for camp placement. Please note while we have listed interactivity minimums to be considered for placement in particular locations, interactivity and each camp’s placement is considered in relation to the camp’s particular size. Placement is optional, you can camp in open camping or walk-in camping without registering or receiving placement.” (1)
PLACERS: Volunteers that start work long before the event opens and also very involved once on playa. This wonderful group of burner humans works with the BMOrg to create the grid of the city and placement of theme camps and open spaces. There are many things taken into account when placing a camp, from expected noise level, camp theme, MOOP map results from previous year, camp size, do they provide a gift to the community, and so much more.
PLAZA: Open air public squares that hold space in a built up area and common crossroads. Found at 3:00, 6:00 center camp, and 9:00. Often populated with interactive art pieces and a common place for meeting as they are typically located directly adjacent to a Port-a Potty area.
PLATINA: “The uniform sheen on the surface of any object which has been on the Black Rock Desert for more than an hour.” (1)
PLAYA: An area of flat, dried-up land, especially a desert basin from which water evaporates quickly. The word playa is used to describe the physical surface of ground which the BM event takes place on. While playa is the Spanish word for beach, it is not made up of sand, but rather a fine alkaline dust that gets compacted by the rains from prior months.
PLAYA BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND: Hook ups have been known to happen on playa. Regardless of if they are physical, emotional, or both, you bond with this new person so much it’s like when you’re in the honeymoon phase of dating and you’re you become a package deal for a day/a few days/the whole burn/for life. These relationships have lead to real world relationships, but are typically only while the event is happening.
PLAYA CHICKEN: “Community legend concerning a rare species of vicious, carnivorous poultry reputed to live in the Black Rock Desert. Any strange phenomenon that is not readily attributable to a known cause may be blamed on Playa Chickens.” (1) Unexplained weird shit? Something missing? Feel like you got “bit” but no mark? Playa chicken…All of it! Is superstitious Burning Man folklore much like Big Foot, Chupacabras or The Boogie Man.
PLAYA COAT: A necessary fashion garment for the cold playa nights that is both warm and soft & fluffy. Often full length dusters with deep pockets constructed from soft, colorful faux fur.
PLAYA CURRENCY: “Euphemism referring to common items bearing unreasonably high value on playa, including beer, whisky, and bacon.” (1) Add cigarettes, lighters, and clean socks to that list too!
PLAYA DUST: “The dried silt of Lake Lahontan, the prehistoric lakebed that is now the Black Rock Desert. Its high alkaline pH makes it corrosive, and its extremely fine particulate gets it into just about everything.” (1)
PLAYA FOOT: “A common malady where one’s feet become dry and cracked due to prolonged exposure to the highly alkaline desert floor. Typically treated with a mild acid solution such as vinegar-water or lime juice, followed by moisturization and putting one’s damn shoes back on.” (1) Most people will wear some type of combat boot or closed toed shoes made from non breathable materials to prevent dust from getting to their feet. You do a lot of walking at BM, even with a bike, take good care of your feet.
PLAYA HERPES: “Glitter” (1) Glitter is notorious for getting everywhere and staying there forever, never actually going away, and randomly showing back up forever after using it.
PLAYA INFO: “Information booth located in Center Camp. Ask them anything. Really. Anything.” (1) Speak to an Oracle, visit the home of Lost & Found at BM, check out the bulletin boards or sign up to volunteer right after you put yourself in the Playa Directory.
PLAYA MADNESS: “Mental condition that occurs after being out in the Black Rock Desert for more than a week at a time.” (1)
PLAYA MAGIC: The saying “the playa provides” coming to fruition. An example would be you think to yourself you should eat because it’s been a while…minutes later someone rolls up with a fresh, hot pizza “special delivery just for you!” And darts off into the night! (*True story, BM 2015 at a “red headed slut” ginger party.)
PLAYA NAME: “Originally spawned by the need for unique names on the staff’s 2-way radios, playa names have become almost ubiquitous, and are sometimes used to provide an individual with an “alternate” personality or persona. Playa names are traditionally given to a person, rather than taken on.” (1)
PLAYA PLATFORMS: “What your footwear immediately becomes after it rains on the playa, when 2-3 inches of mud rapidly accumulates on the bottoms of your shoes.” (1)
PLAYA PROVIDES, THE: A popular saying that indicates the magic of the playa paired with a gift economy create coincidences that provide you with what you need when you need it. While you should be radically self prepared, sometimes unforeseen things come up and you need a little help. Sometime you ask the playa and it delivers, other times, it’s offered and then applicable. Playa provides can also mean getting “not what you want, but what you need.”
PLAYAFICATION: “Adj.: Playafied…The process by which all participants’ shoes/feet, hair, tents, carpets, furniture, vehicles, etc. become the same serene shade of playa-tan due to ubiquitous dust build-up.” (1)
PLAYASEXUAL: Reality is blurred at BM, and genders norms are too! You can freely cross dress and try new things in general. The primary impulse behind the new playa behavior is a genuine sense of freedom because no one is likely to judge you on playa.
PLUG-N-PLAY CAMP: “See “Turnkey camp”.” (1) A term that denotes using software or devices that are intended to work perfectly when first connected, without reconfiguration or adjustment by the user.
POI: “A traditional dance form of the Maori people of New Zealand, in which tethered balls (“poi”) are swung in rhythmical and geometrical patterns. Many playa fire performances are based on the form.” (1)
POTLATCH: “Native American term for a gathering or festival focused on gift-giving, in which status is derived from the distribution rather than accumulation of wealth.” (1)
PORTTA POTTY: Aka toilet, aka Burner Bathroom. Lit with a deep blue light, on each end so you can identify them from a distance. Located consistently throughout the grid of the city, they are even found all the way out in deep playa. If you encounter one of these with *caution tape* over the front door or signage saying “out of order” chances are, it’s actually not, but a magical bathroom oasis! Typically has lights, scent spray, extra TP, magazines, hand sanitizer and a mirror! On that note, respect the bathrooms at Burning Man, all of them! They are necessary to ensure the future of the event. For a more detailed guide outlining everything you need to know about these event bathrooms, please reference my other blog post Porta Potty Etiquette.
PRECOMPRESSION: “Parties and events put on by Burners before Burning Man to get inspired for their upcoming playa experience.” (1)
PROJECT, THE: “Burning Man Project, the nonprofit organization.” (1)
PULSING: The act of letting cars exit the event in spaced gaps of time, usual an hour apart, in an effort to alleviate traffic congestion during Exodus.
QUINN RIVER: “Located at the northeast side of Black Rock Desert, this springtime river empties onto the playa and then dries up during the summer.” (1)
RADICAL INCLUSION: 1 of the 10 principles. “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.” (1)
RADICAL SELF-ENFUNMENT: “Thought by some to be the 11th principle of Burning Man.” (1) Have fun, as much as your little spirit can conjure up!
RADICAL SELF-EXPRESSION: 1 of the 10 principles. “Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.”
RADICAL SELF-RELIANCE: 1 of the 10 principles. “Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.” (1)
RANGER: “There are two types or RANGERS: (1) Black Rock City Ranger, a volunteer devoted to non-confrontational community mediation and the peaceful facilitation of public safety; (2) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Ranger, a federal law enforcement officer. Know the difference!” (1) If something happens on playa, you rather deal with a Black Rock Ranger. They are Burners who also volunteer as peace officers while at the event. BLM Rangers are REAL COPS…and they are there on behalf of the federal government, not Burning Man. If you have a run in with a BLM Ranger or any other default world law enforcement while at the event, ask anyone around you to get a Burning Man Ranger. The dusty, khaki BM Rangers are your allies, they are there to help you, and to document the situation. The job of the Rangers is not to keep one from doing something stupid, but to prevent that stupid act from causing too much collateral damage. BRC Rangers are not there to protect you form yourself.
RANGERED: This verb indicates that one of the Black Rock City volunteer Rangers noticed that you needed water, an Otter Pop or some cold fruit because of signs of dehydration. Dehydration on playa is a major concern as the conditions are so harsh. *See Piss Clear. Once you have been “Rangered” your fellow campmates will be on high alert to make sure you are maintaining proper liquid intake.
RANGER HQ: “Central base of operations for the Black Rock City Rangers.” (1) Located on the Esplanade near Center Camp.
RANGER STATION: “The publicly accessible, campsite complex and base of Ranger operations.” (1)
RAVER: On playa this term has a more negative sentiment then in the default world. It is often used to describe people who come to BM, but only go to the sound camps. Often times they don’t participate in LNT and leave behind a lot of MOOP. This type of person expects/acts like BM is just another music festival to get turned up at. They usually are unaware of the 10 principles and are more concerned with partying.
RE-ENTRY: This is the immediate process of transitioning back to the default world after being on playa. The idea is taken from space objects catching fire as they enter earth’s atmosphere…because BM feels like a whole other planet! Two of the most desired things upon re-entry are a hot meal and a long shower.
REALITY BENDS: “Cramps felt in the mind and spirit after returning to the “real” world after spending a week in Black Rock City. Best remedied by Decompression.” (1)
REALITY CAMP: Another term for Default World. Since “camps” are you temporary home base in BRC, Reality Camp is a fun play on the theme camp concept.
REBAR: “Cheap steel rods often used for tent stakes.” (1) All structures need to be anchored into the playa to be able to withstand the strong winds. Every year I have attended I have seen objects take flight, the largest being an entire geo dome in 2015. Rebar offers a inexpensive sultan to securing objects in the ground. This a tent stake on steroids.
REGIONALS: “The global representatives of Burning Man who help connect Burners with fellow Burners off playa, while producing events and upholding the Ten Principles.” (1)
ROD’S ROAD: “The circular ring road around Center Camp, named for the late Rod Garrett, city designer.” (1)
RV Fortress: “Derogatory term for a camp with no public space for interaction.” (1) Often times these camps are referred to as “Millionare Camps” because they just paid for all these services so they could live in luxury while on playa, but they make zero effort to contribute to the event other then taking up space and feeling entitled.
SAFETY THIRD: A phrase commonly overheard, usually proceeded by “hold my beer”. This saying is misleading to some. It doesn’t mean that safety isn’t taken into account, it just takes a back seat to fun. For the most part, each person may be as reckless as they want provided they do not endanger others. If you put safety first, you’d never do anything, as doing nothing is safer. It is third because 1 and 2 are fluid. You should always think of safety, for others, the venue and yourself. If you take care of others and the venue, then your safety should be ensured by default. The wrist band you get at admittance even carries the message “Work hard, don’t do stupid shit” and I like to think “be safe” is implied to complete the trifecta.
SENSORY OVERLOAD: “Just attending Burning Man. This is generally a blissful state, however, there is some sadness in the realization that a human can only witness a tiny fraction of the vast, non-stop, brilliant activities occurring during the week-long festival.” (1)
SHADE STRUCTURE: A general term for any form of sanctuary from the sun. Usually a mix of tarps, aluminum screens, sails and awnings strategically rigged around camp, often found at the communal areas and over sleeping tents. With no natural shaded areas, one has to build way to escape the heat of the playa.
SHERPA: This meaning is two fold. Firstly, and classically, a “Sherpa at BM is a Burner who helps virgins, just like the mountain guides that assist westerners ascending Mt. Everest.” (1) Secondly, the reference Sherpa as it stands to Millionaire camps, is a paid staff member that does all the heavy lifting for mega rich participants looking for a plug-n-play experience. Everything from setup camp, decorate bikes and cook meals. The practice of paying people to set up camp for you in this way is a very controversial topic in the community.
SHIRTCOCKER: “A participant halfway attired, arguably the wrong half. The condition may be corrected by use of a pneumatic pants cannon.” (1) Male participants that will wear a shirt or even a blazer, but be naked from the waist down. Shirt-cocking has become more of a fashion faux pas in a community that otherwise tolerates any and all fashion choices, and appreciates nudity.
SOCIAL PANTIES: Fun sexy undergarments that feature bright and bold colors, decretive lace ruffles, sequins or other fun embellishments. Because its BM you can wear whatever you like, including just your chonies.
SOLIFUGE: “A predatory insect, one of the few life forms hardy enough to thrive on the playa during the dry season. Also known as Sun or Wind Scorpions, or solpugids. Harmless to human beings, they are very active for several hours just after dark.” (1)
SOUND CAMP: Aka Noise Camp, Dance Camps. Large Scale Sound Art. A type of theme camp that gifts music. Typically has elaborate stages/Art Cars and a line up of great DJs. These camps are usually jumping all night long pushing subwoofers to the limits until the sun comes up, literally.
SPARKLE PONY: “Derogatory term for a participant who fails to embrace the principle of radical self-reliance, and is overly reliant on the resources of friends, campmates, and the community at large to enable their Burning Man experience. Often fashionably attired, since they packed nothing but costumes.” (1) Also referred to as a SPARKLE BRO-NY when referring to males.
SPEED BUMP: Aka Darkwad. Someone who is poorly illuminated at night and could be easily run over by bicycles or Mutant Vehicles.
STEALTH VIRGIN: If you have never been to BM, and you find yourself reading this before you go, chances are you are well on your way to being a Stealth Virgin. Which is someone who has studied the culture and concepts of the event before attending and then participates on playa a lot for a first time Burner. This leads people to assume that newbies have been attending for years.
STREETS: “Are curved and concentric to the Man, and are named in alphabetical order, starting with “A” Street (behind Esplanade) and progressing outward away from the Man.” (1) These would be the lettered roads. The start inward after the Esplanade and run in a an arched line, getting longer as you go up in letter. The names of the letter roads are actually words. The words always start with the same letter, but the words themselves change every year to go with the theme.
STREET SIGNS: Since the playa is laid out like an actual city with streets and avenues, there are street signs to indicate what location/intersection you are at. Camps do not have traditional address, but more general locations, such as “7:30 & C”. Usually if you are in the general area, you can ask people where X camp is and they will help you find it. The street signs play a vital role in finding things around the city, and are crucial to navigation, especially at night when some landmarks/camp features are harder to recognize. DO NOT STEAL THE STREET SIGNS! This is not cool, and very frowned upon by the community.
STRIKE: The process of tearing down camp or art works. In keeping with event traditions, this is a Leave No Trace process, usually finished by conducting a MOOP sweep.
SURVIVALLY-CHALLENGED: “Euphemism for a participant whose judgment is impaired by drugs or alcohol.” (1)
SWAG: Because BM is a gift based economy, people make/bring beautiful tokens and souvenirs to bestow upon other participants at random. Common swag: Jewelry, stickers, patches, pins, alcohol, food, blink lights, post cards, art, clothing, and accessories.
TAZ: “Temporary Autonomous Zone, a term coined by writer Hakim Bey. Burning Man isn’t one.” (1) The book, written in 1991 (the first year the event took place at BRC) describes the socio-political tactic of creating temporary spaces that elude formal structures of control. In the early years of this event being held on playa it was actually touted as a TAZ, which was the attraction for people to attend. It was very Mad Max, with unregulated driving on playa, fireworks and even firearms. There was no law enforcement presence at this time and the event was only at a few hundred attendees.
In its first years, the community grew by word of mouth alone. There were no separation between art-space and living-space, no rules other than “Don’t interfere with anyone else’s immediate experience” and “no guns in central camp.”
TEMPLE, THE: While the event has no religious affiliation, the Temple serves as a place of general worship and remembrance. It offers people a place to let go, be reborn and grow spiritually. It is the only place on playa that is usually quiet. It has a very calming and reverent vibe. The building itself serves as a shrine where attendees will write messages, leave letters, pictures and momentous for loved ones that will all be burned on Sunday evening. When the Temple burns, it is the opposite of the party that happens the night before for at the Man Burn. It is quite, and sullen. People are crying, holding one another and reflecting. It is more of a ceremonious release and a celebration of life.
TEN PRINCIPLES: “The 10 core guiding concepts of the Burning Man project.” (1) Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-reliance, Radical Self Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibly, Leave No Trace, Participation and Immediacy.
THEME CAMP: “A campsite which artistically presents an idea or concept and is designed to create an interactive experience for participants.” (1)
THUNDERDOME: Death Guild Camp’s contribution to the city. Set out on open playa, just passed the Esplanade is a giant geodesic dome where you can literally fight strangers and friends with foam bats, all while suspended in a bungee harness belt. To top things off, folks climb all around and up on the dome cheering and yelling adding to the kick ass spectacle.
TOURIST: Aka Spectators. Derogatory term for someone who shows up to the event under prepared because they heard it was a “festival with free beer where everybody is naked”. These people do not bring anything to contribute to the community and therefore deplete other attendee’s preplanned resources.
TRASH FENCE: Part of the Perimeter. The end of Deep Playa. A boundy line that serves as a functional way to catch miscellaneous largeMOOP. It is also the famed location of the legendary Daft Punk set that has yet to happen. The fence is made out of orange construction fencing, and is set up along the perimeter of Burning Man to prevent inevitable garbage waste from traveling into the nearby mountain range and surrounding nature. An effort to aid in making BM a Leave No Trace event.
TTITD: Acrynym for That Thing In The Desert. A more low-key way to reference the event without using the exact words. It’s a cleaver way to talk about Burning Man without actual saying the name. Burners, myself included, talk about Burning Man a lot and it can get super annoying, this alleviates some of the repetition.
TURNKEY CAMP: Aka Plug-n-Play Camps. “A camp that is set up and operated by third-party vendors on behalf of its fly-in or drive-in participants.” (1) Everything from outrageous “dues” to full on paid Sherpas to set up everything and ensure a level of luxury while on playa. No bullshit.
TUTU TUESDAY: An unofficial, but widely participated in fashion event. It takes place on the only Tuesday of the event. A lot of people will be seen around playa wearing various styles of tutu skirts.
UNTZ UNTZ: This refers to the sound that is a Techno beat’s pulse. A common way to describe Techno music to other people on the playa, by just making the “sounds” by saying the word “Untz” repeatedly.
VETERAN: Someone who had been attending TTITD for many years. They have countless pearls of wisdom on everything from building structures to how to prevent problems before they arise. Veteran Burners are some of the realest, most helpful and fun people I have met. They are a wealth of knowledge and a valuable living resource to BRC.
VILLAGE: “An affinity group of theme camps, sharing a common space and ethos.
Shared ideas, resources and an ever-present concern for every individual make community. To create a village is to take on the responsibility for creating an environment in which people live together with the intention of creating something to give back to the community. To these ends, it is a place to maximize the potential that everyone brings to Burning Man.” (1) A Village is when group of theme camps gets together and forms a giant super camp. This can include collaboration on art pieces, mutant vehicles, shade structures, gift offerings and relaxation spaces for the citizens of BRC.
VIRGIN: Someone attending the event for the first time. This word has been slowly replaced with the term BURGIN. Some attendees will reference their first year on playa as their “Virgin Year”.
WE ARE EVERYWHERE: A proclomation adopted from the LGBTQIA community that other Burners say when they meet one another for the first time in the default world after discover that they both have TTITD in common.
WEEKENDERS: Derogatory term for people that only come to BRC towards the end of the event, once the city has all been built. Some people have work restrictions; however, most weekenders are of the Tourist nature.
WHITE-OUT: “A violent dust storm producing near-zero visibility.” (1) Natural phenomenon that happens frequently on playa. If you find yourself caught in a white-out, remain where you are, stop riding your bike/or driving an art car and just wait to it to pass, which is usually just a few minutes.
WHITE PARTY WEDNESDAY: Un official, but widely popular fashion theme for parties that fall on Wednesday in BRC. Just like the popular circuit party theme. Participants wear white/cream/silver, especially at night! Plus the dust is wayyyy less noticeable on white clothing, so people manage to look strangely fresh in the morning after partying all night.
WHAT HAPPENS ON PLAYA, STAYS ON PLAYA: Very much “whatever happens at Vegas, stays at Vegas”. Do crazy things, let your self be free and open to new experiences and saying yes to the universe.
WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, THE: The closest thing you will get to a playa guide at Burning Man. It is handed to you by the Greeters as they check your ticket and put on your wrist band. It is a composed list of over 4,300 events that happen on playa, the week of the event. Assembled by Playa Events, this booklet is a guide to what is happening in BRC, when its going down and where you need to go to participate.
WHEN IS THE LAST TIME YOU HAD WATER: One of the many questions camp mates will ask each other while out and about to ensure no one gets dehydrated. The custom is if you are drinking your water, ask the group. Also, if you’re one other friend or a small group, it can be a time to gift water as you offer to share yours as it is already out and available.
WOMP WOMP: The sound that dubstep music is associated with, the first womb being higher then the second. Think video game sounds.
YOU GET THE BURN YOU NEED: The other part of this is “not the Burn you want”. You might set off with a whole slew of ideas of what to expect when you arrive, but the playa has other intentions for you. It somehow knows what you really need. Maybe its a moment of clarity, of letting go or even forgiveness. It’s not all fun and partying. It’s spiritual growth, it’s relationship development its humanity at both its finest and its most hedonistic. The playa has a way of giving you answers you didn’t know you were searching for.
11TH PRINCEPLE: There are only 10, but people often make up an 11th to fit whatever’s clever. Popular 11th principles include, but are not limited to: consent, piss clear, safty 3rd, radical self indulgence, have fun, don’t die, always cook enough bacon to share, say yes, ECT.
)’( : The Iconic representation of The Man from The Burning Man Project. How people create their own Burning Man Emoji if you will.
Despite the event not being held for the masses this year in Black Rock City, the positive side is that Burning Man was more radically inclusive this year then ever before with the Multiverse. Anyone with access to a smart phone or a computer was able to get the closest introduction to the BM experience outside of actually attending the event in person. The Burning Man Project has always been on the cutting edge of technology and problem solving, it really is no wonder that this year they pioneered such an online universe. I can not wait to see how else the organization continues to grow and adapt, it truly inspires me year after year.
I hope that after reading this you feel inspired to further explore and learn about the wonders of Burning Man on your own…who knows, you might already be a Burner and not even know it!
***As languages are fluid and ever evolving, I will continue to update this post with any new words or phrases about TTITD that come to my attention. Have something I should add to this unofficial glossary? Leave a comment and let me know!
To learn more about this awesome event please check out some of my favorite BM related resources listed in the links below!
The official website of all things Burning Man.
Mark Day 24 Hours at Burning Man on YouTube. His videos cover so much its incredible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4hL7t8cfus
SPARK: A Burning Man Story. A well done documentary detailing the ethos of the event.
HALCYON Cofounder of Pink Heart Camp: Burner guru, practitioner of radical self expression and a constant vessel of love, Halcyon’s videos are great as general introduction to Burner Culture and are full of general gratitude for the event and all of life itself. Honest and inspirational, these videos are worth checking out if you want to dive deeper into the ethos of the 10 principles and how to apply them to everyday life.
Burn Life website hosts a detailed history with some great pictures that really captures the magic of the playa, especially the early years.
(1) Burning Man Organization. Event culture; community developed glossary.