Let’s translate some of the most common knitting lingo

When I’m teaching people to knit, or helping them knit their first sweater at one of my workshops, there’s one thing that comes up time and time again.

It’s that knitting patterns are like a different language.

And yes, I can understand that view, which is why I’ll be writing another post all about how to understand a knitting pattern. But that’s not what this post today is for.

It’s not even about all the different terms for equipment we use and techniques that we love/hate, because that could be a never-ending task and entire website just on its own.

Oh no, today we’re talking about understanding the weird old language that hangs around whenever we talk about our knitting. You know the terms – the little signifiers of shared experience, the shorthand that makes us feel like part of the knitting in-crowd.

Because oh my, some of that chat can be as impenetrable to a newbie as the patterns themselves.

So let’s get translating, shall we?

Your knitspeak to normal speak dictionary

Now, the logical way to arrange this list would be in alphabetical order like, say, a normal dictionary.

But where’s the fun in that?

So instead, we’re going to be going in order of the most common terms you’re likely to hear, and take it up to the most niche, and, let’s be honest here, borderline ridiculous knitting terms.

a shot of Jacki's torso with her holding many skeins of yarn

Everyday knitting lingo

Want to post about your project on Instagram? You’re going to need a few of these terms:

  • WIP: work in progress. Otherwise known as the thing you’re currently knitting. For many of us (myself included), this one’s usually pluralised to WIPS, because where’s the fun in knitting one thing at a time? If you need a bit more of an example of how these things can really spiral, then there’s a video below which shows just how out of control WIPs can get.
  • Stash: yarn collection. You know how squirrels hide away food for during the winter? Knitters do that with yarn. I’d love to pretend it’s for survival reasons, but in my case at least it’s because I’ve just got no control.
  • FO: finished object. As in, the project that you’ve actually completed and can now wear with pride.
  • UFO: unfinished object. AKA the things that hide in the corner/cupboard/your conscience and have been abandoned without being worked on for a very long time. Many will never be finished. They will just linger on forever, making you feel a little bit bad about casting on yet another thing. But not bad enough to not cast it on, obviously.

Terms for when it’s all gone knits up

Of all the inevitabilities of knitting, making mistakes is absolutely the most inevitable of all. It’s so terrible, terribly easy to just stop paying attention for a moment and make a mistake in your knitting. But do we call fixing that “fixing a mistake”?


  • Frogging: ripping your knitting back. So-called because “rip it rip it” sounds like “ribbit ribbit”, which, y’know….frogs. Took me a while to realise that link, and I’ve got to be honest, I’m not an enormous fan of either the term “frogging”, or the action.
  •  Tinking: undoing your knitting stitch by stitch. Otherwise known as knitting backwards. Tink. Knit. You see what they did there?
  • Yarn chicken: when you’re not sure if you’ve got enough yarn to finish your project, but you’re knitting on anyway and hoping for the best. About as high-octane as knitting gets.
  • Sleeve island: yes, technically it’s not gone wrong but…knitting a sleeve can be BORING, which is why it’s in here with the other not-so-enjoyable knitting terms. Sleeve island is where you are when it feels like you’ve just been going round and round in the never-ending circle of your sleeve since the dawn of time, and that the cuff will never arrive.
Jacki's hands knitting a marled blanket

Knitting terms that sound like an affliction

Much like sleeve island, there are some knitting experiences that are just so utterly universal that it feels like they’re almost embedded in our DNA and will just come out when you’ve spent enough time with some sticks and string. And those are the ones that have been given terms that sound like an actual diagnosis.

Thankfully, they’re usually easily solved. And if they aren’t…well, you can just put your knitting down, and that’s going to fix it, isn’t it?

  • Castonitis: being unable to stop casting on more projects. And then some more projects. And then a few more projects. This one is how your WIPs can transform into a pile of UFOs that you should really just give up on a frog, but, y’know…more fun to cast on something new, isn’t it?
  • Second sock syndrome: there’s only one problem with socks. Once you’re knitted one of them, you have to knit the second one. Which is usually exactly the same as the first one. And I mean…why knit something again when you could knit something new and shiny?
  • Yarn barf: that horrible, messy tangle of yarn that can happen if you don’t keep a very close eye on it. Because life has 100% got a life of its own and will throw itself into a horrible mess.

What knitting lingo have I missed? Let me know below.

Because yeah, let’s be honest – this is far from an exhaustive list of all the knitting lingo you might encounter. So if you’ve got a favourite term, let me know in the comments.

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