Penguins and polar bears: The difference between Antarctica and the Arctic

Bernadette Hince at The Antarctic Dictionary book launch in 2000. Source: Australian Government

“I even managed to sneak the word ‘Polar Bear’ into The Antarctic Dictionary. ‘No, there are no polar bears in Antarctica. Nor penguins in the Arctic’.”

From that little sentence, I was hooked. I never considered that reading a dictionary would be fun. I tried years ago to read an Oxford English version, but did not get very far. So it was a surprise to put on my nerd-goggles and realise that The Antarctic Dictionary would be a fascinating read!

For sure, the world’s most isolated continent has spawned some of the most unusual words in the English language. The dictionary uses the earliest historical use of the word as examples when providing the definition. Legendary explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes describes it as written with ‘dark witty humour’ in his foreword.

The brains behind the book is Dr Bernadette Hince, a researcher and dictionary-editor from Euroa, Victoria (in Australia!!) with an interest in Antarctica and the Arctic. She wrote her PhD on sub-antarctic lands and I met her when she came by Nuuk, Greenland to attend a conference. Discussing heritage and change in the Arctic, the conference was held at Ilisimatusarfik, University of Greenland. She’s currently working on a new dictionary with polar words.

Writing dictionaries is not really a profitable job, Hince said, but it’s a pleasurable past-time which has taken her places.

It was her first time in Greenland, and she enjoyed getting out in the evening and early morning to view the many auroras dancing about in the night sky. The Northern lights were spectacular this week, that was for sure!

Northern lights this week! Source: The Fourth Continent in Greenland’s facebook page

Reading through the dictionary, I found a few words which clarified the difference between the Arctic and Antarctica. Such as polar continent.   

polar continent – The antarctic continent. Antarctica is the polar continent: polar land and ice surrounded by ocean; the North Pole is the neat reverse, an oceanic pole surrounded by land.  

There were some similarities between the two places: 

polar light – from 1901 – a source from Bernacchi, Louise, saying “At this season of the year the curious and impressive spectacle of the Polar Light was frequently observed. This, which in the Northern hemisphere is the Aurora Borealis, is, in contradistinction, called the Aurora Australis in the Southern Hemisphere. In appearance, however, they differ very little.”

polar blackout – An unusually large injection of solar charged particles into the polar ionosphere, often leading to high frequency (3-20 MHz) radio communication failure across the continent. Such events may last for days, occur simultaneously in Antarctica and the Arctic, and are also called ‘polar cap absorption’ events.

Jonas thought that the term ice widow could be used both north and south. It describes a man or woman who is left alone at home because the adventurer is out in Antarctica. When he or she is out, the one at home is an ice widow/er. That is so true. For all the love stories I’ve heard here in Greenland, it’s also a polarising place that can separate loved ones, either through distance, technology or nature.

People also loved hunting for whales in the south too:

Whale sickness – A discontent or depression engendered among whalers by a lack of whales to hunt.

1971 example from Antarctic Housewife: During a slack period when whales were scarce, he developed an attack of ‘whale-sickness’, a common psychological complaint attributed to inactivity and a lack of whales. Whale-sickness manifested itself in various ways, truculent behaviour, moping and imaginary complaints being typical symptoms for which there is only one cure – a good catch of whales.

There was also an official word for being crazy in love with the other coldest region on Earth:

antarcticitis – a yearning for Antarctica

1964 example from journal of the ANARE club (Melbourne): Many of you suddenly turn up in the Explorer’s Arms “just for a chat” or “just to find out what is going on.” If you see yourself here, you are not only like a bird in a cage, but you are also suffering from Antarcticitis, or in certain cases, Macquarie disease.”

Isn’t it wonderful? More about the dictionary can be found on the CSIRO webpage.

5 differences between the Antarctic and the Arctic:  

  1. Antarctica has the south pole, the Arctic has the North pole.
  2. Besides research stations, Antarctica is not inhabited by people. The Arctic has indigenous peoples.
  3. Antarctica is as far as 60 degree north, whereas the Arctic is as far as 50 degrees south
  4. Antarctica has almost no vegetation, mostly lichens. The Arctic has tundra and flowering plants.
  5. Finally, the one we learnt already – there are no polar bears in the Antarctic. Nor are there penguins in the Arctic.

2 thoughts on “Penguins and polar bears: The difference between Antarctica and the Arctic

  1. Pingback: Video: A polar bear and a samsung washer | The Fourth Continent

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