Glossary

Over the course of its history, the Burning Man community has developed its own peculiar lexicon, an organic outgrowth of the event, the culture, and the unique landscape of the Black Rock Desert where the event takes place. We’ve compiled this glossary to help newcomers know what the hell we’re talking about. Are we missing something? Let us know!

A

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.
Arctica
 

Where participants in BRC go to buy ice. Located in Center Camp, with satellite locations in the 3:00 and 9:00 Plazas.

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.

Art Cars
 

See Mutant Vehicles.

ARTery
 

The artist resource center in BRC that facilitates the placement and display of art on the playa during the event. Also provides information to participants about the art and artists.

B

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.”
Baker Beach

San Francisco beach where Burning Man originated in 1986.

Black Rock

A large dark rock formation at the north end of the playa.

Black Rock City

(BRC) The annual, temporary city created by the community of Burning Man participants.

Black Rock Gazette

The city’s first onsite daily newspaper, founded by Danger Ranger in 1992. On hiatus since 2007.

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.

Black Rock Ranger

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.

BLM

Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that administers public land including the Black Rock Desert.

BMIR

Burning Man Information Radio, 94.5 FM, serving the greater Black Rock City area.

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.”

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.

BRC

Black Rock City, the temporary metropolis that is home to the Burning Man event.

Burn Platform

A protective barrier placed under fire installations to prevent discoloration of the playa surface (see “Burn scar”).

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.

Burn, the

Reference to the actual event, and activity, of burning the Burning Man statue.

Burner

One who pursues a way of life based on the values reflected in the Ten Principles of Burning Man.

C

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.
Café

The Center Camp Cafe in Black Rock City, purveyors of fine coffee and tea drinks

Camp Arctica

Locations in Black Rock City where participants can purchase ice to keep their perishables fresh. Proceeds from ice sales are donated to local charities.

Center Camp

Large circular area and structures located in the center of Black Rock City.

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.

Collexodus

The annual process of collecting unused supplies from departing participants for use by the event crew during teardown and clean up.

Concrete Stake

Heavy-duty steel stake with a series of small holes along the length.

CORE

Acronym for Circle of Regional Effigies, a group of burn installations traditionally built by Burning Man regional groups

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.

D

Danger Ranger

Founder and iconic hero of the Black Rock Rangers.
Darktard

See “Darkwad.”

Darkwad

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.”

Decommodification

One of the Ten Principles of Burning Man. “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.”

Decompression

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.

Deep Playa

In Black Rock City, the area of open playa behind the Man, particularly the outer realms near the perimeter trash fence.

Default World

The rest of the world that is not Black Rock City during the Burning Man event.

Dehydration

Medical condition that results from not drinking enough water.

DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles)

The team of dedicated volunteers who review and register Mutant Vehicles, giving them permission to drive on the playa during the event.

Donner Award

Annual award given to the individual, or group, who pushes the limits of personal survival through stupidity, inattention or just bad luck during the event.

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.

DPW

Department of Public Works.

Dust Devils

See Ancestors.

E

Earth Guardians

A subgroup of Burning Man participants who work with the BLM to care for the Black Rock Desert. Earth Guardians are trained in Leave No Trace techniques.
EL Wire

Electroluminscent Wire. Cool, glowing stuff used to make moving objects and sculptures out of light.

ESD

Emergency Services Department. In Black Rock City, ESD provides fire protection and emergency medical services.

Esplanade

In Black Rock City, the innermost ring road facing the Man.

Everywhere

Burning Man Project’s presence in Black Rock City, a locus for promoting the Project’s year-round programs in afrt, education, and civic involvement worldwide.

Exodus

The process and organization of the mass participant departure from BRC at the end of the event.

Exploding Man

A legendary fireworks performance.

F

Fallopian Tubes

The two long roads that connect Black Rock City’s Gate with the principal grid of numbered and lettered streets.
FAST

Fire Art Safety Team. Supports artists employing open fire or flame effects.

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.

Fire Dancing

The art of dancing with fire, usually in the form of poi, staff, hoops, clubs, fans, or other devices.

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.

Flambe Lounge

An off-playa Burning Man art lounge gathering held in San Francisco.

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.

Fluffer

A volunteer who supports other volunteer teams in the field, i.e., by replenishing their drinking water.

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.

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.

G

Gate road

The path connecting Black Rock City’s gate to Route 34, the nearest paved road.
Gifting

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.

Greeter

Volunteers who welcome all arriving participants to Black Rock City.

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.

Guru Lane

A folk-art monument-lined road near Gerlach, built by Doobie Williams, who passed away at age 76 in 1995.

H

Heat Exhaustion

A more serious form of dehydration.
HELCO

Fictional corporation which attempted to buy Burning Man in 1996.

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.

I

ICS

Incident Command System, an action plan to be used by the Rangers in the event of serious emergency.

J

Jackrabbit Speaks

Email newsletter produced by Burning Man organization, sometimes referred to as the JRS. You should subscribe to it.

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?”

K

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.
Kidsville

A kid-friendly village for families bringing their youngsters to Black Rock City.

L

Lamp Posts

The series of vertical lighting fixtures which line walkways and delineate areas of BRC.

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.

Larry

Larry Harvey, Burning Man founder and Chief Philosophical Officer.

Leave No Trace

A philosophy learned during a rigorous 3-day back-country training expedition, during which participants are taught to clean up after themselves. Leaving no trace is also one of the Ten Principles of Burning Man. No really, we’re serious about this.

Line Walk

A form of MOOP cleanup executed by a group, walking in a line-abreast formation and collecting all debris in its path.

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.

M

Man Base

The structure at the base of the Man.
Man, the

Term used for the Burning Man statue.

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.

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.

MOOP

Matter Out Of Place. Litter, debris, rubbish.

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.

N

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.”
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.

Nose Tators

Playa dust nostril plugs that form during the event; spelling derived from a contraction of “No Spectators.”

O

Obtainium

Any useful and valued material which is found or obtained for free.
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.

P

Participant

Uh, that would be you…
Perimeter

During the term of the Burning Man event, the city is surrounded by a perimeter fence, with controlled entry and exit procedures.

Pickleback

A traditional beverage of the playa, consisting of a shot of whiskey followed by a chaser of pickle juice.

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.”

Platina

The uniform sheen on the surface of any object which has been on the Black Rock Desert for more than an hour.

Playa

The Spanish word for beach, also used to describe dry lake beds in the American west such as the Black Rock Desert.

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.

Playa Currency

Euphemism referring to common items bearing unreasonably high value on playa, including beer, whisky, and bacon.

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.

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.

Playa Info

Information booth located in Center Camp. Ask them anything. Really. Anything.

Playa Madness

Mental condition that occurs after being out in the Black Rock Desert for more than a week at a time.

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.

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.

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.

Plug-n-play camp

See “Turnkey camp”.

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.

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.

Precompression

Parties and events put on by Burners before Burning Man to get inspired for their upcoming playa experience.

Project, the

Burning Man Project, the nonprofit organization.

Q

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.

R

Radical Self-enfunment

Thought by some to be the 11th principle of Burning Man.
Ranger

(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.

Ranger HQ

Central base of operations for the Black Rock City Rangers.

Ranger Station

The publically accessible, campsite complex and base of Ranger operations.

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.

Rebar

Cheap steel rods often used for tent stakes.

Regionals

The global representatives of Burning Man who help connect Burners with fellow Burners off playa, while producing events and upholding the Ten Principles.

Rod’s Road

The circular ring road around Center Camp, named for the late Rod Garrett, city designer.

RV fortress

Derogatory term for a camp with no public space for interaction.

S

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.
Shirtcocker

A participant halfway attired, arguably the wrong half. The condition may be corrected by use of a pneumatic pants cannon.

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.

Sparklepony

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.

Speed Bump

See “Darkwad.”

Survivally-challenged

Euphemism for a participant whose judgment is impaired by drugs or alcohol.

T

TAZ

Temporary Autonomous Zone, a term coined by writer Hakim Bey. Burning Man isn’t one.
Ten Principles

the ten core guiding concepts of the Burning Man project.

Theme Camp

A campsite which artistically presents an idea or concept and is designed to create an interactive experience for participants.

Trash fence

See “Perimeter.”

Turnkey Camp

A camp that is set up and operated by third-party vendors on behalf of its fly-in or drive-in participants.

V

Village

An affinity group of theme camps, sharing a common space and ethos.

W

White-out

A violent dust storm producing near-zero visibility.