Thursday, September 27, 2012

Talk Like a Pirate Postmortem; But You Can Still Talk Like a Lumberjack!

The Germans and Scandinavians try to ban circumcision, a crazy Copt makes a film attacking Muhammad, and now this: National Geographic is saying that international Talk Like a Pirate Day is based on nothing but myths and movies.

Is nothing sacred?! And on the 10th anniversary, no less!

Some people take our fun much too seriously. As my tweep, ace reporter for the Springfield Republican Patrick Johnson (@paddyJ1325) said,
Leave it to to go all buzzkill on National Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arrr! Shiver me timbers, matey
Of course as another tweep, sharp-eyed Springfield librarian Donna Goldthwaite (@DLGLibrarian) observed, there is also the other extreme of "Taking 'Talk Like a Pirate Day' WAY too seriously." The Daily Beast (citing the Telegraph) reports that an Englishwoman, clearly three sheets to the wind, got it into her head to "commandeer a passenger ferry and ram other watercraft while hollering 'I’m Jack Sparrow' and 'I’m a pirate.'"

The official Talk Like a Pirate organization does not condone such anti-social behavior. (For that matter, I don't think Jack Sparrow would, either.)

For those accustomed to more sedate celebrations, the staid Guardian offered a children's quiz about pirates in stories.

Still, that National Geographic story kind of took the wind out of the sails for many who have come to look forward to this day with holy anticipation each year. Fortunately, even as we are still getting over the disillusionment (next, they will be telling kids that there is no Santa Claus; oops), Lumberjack Day—sometimes also referred to as Talk Like a Lumberjack Day—comes along to revive our spirits.

Ritual and the marking of sacred time are important in all cultures, so just as Easter follows Good Friday, and Yom Kippur follows Rosh Hashanah, Lumberjack Day (September 26) occurs exactly a week after Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19). There is order in the cosmos.

Of course, this year, those observing Yom Kippur were not able to observe Lumberjack Day in full, having to deprive themselves of all that delicious lumberjack food (some would have had to skip it anyway, due to all that bacon). And it wouldn't be appropriate to "Knock things over all day yelling TIIIIIIIMBER" or even just "just talk really REALLY LOUD!" when you're trying to get God to forgive you for your sins. But everyone else presumably had a roaring good celebration.

As one who comes from a long line of people involved in forestry and the wood-related trades (no pirates, as far as I know), I of course think we should act like lumberjacks and foresters all year 'round.

And we can start by talking like real lumberjacks.

The Lumberjack Day website offers a good selection of lumberjack expressions, but I would like here to draw on my own private stock. My favorite resource is Lumberjack Lingo (Spring Green: Wisconsin House, 1969) a classic in the field, from my native region.

Way back in the 1930s, when working at the logging museum in Rhinelander, Wisconsin (I heartily recommend a visit), Professor L. G. Sorden, University of Wisconsin Extension Service of the College of Agriculture, began to collect loggers' vocabulary, a task that continued for some three decades. The author claims authenticity but not completeness for the list, which doubled to nearly 2,500 terms by the time of the second edition in 1969. The book is ideal for me, for it focuses on terms "used from about 1850 to 1920 and only in the New England states and the Great Lakes area." My treasured copy is autographed by both the midwestern author and the anonymous illustrator, and moreover contains some annotations by a western Massachusetts logger, who ticked off the terms with which he was personally familiar.

I have already regaled my reader with a comparison of mobsters' nicknames with loggers nicknames derived from this book. So, here is a brief selection of basic lumberjack lingo:
  • Alibi Day: Payday in camp when many loggers developed toothaches or other ills requiring trips to town.
  • Bagnio: A girl house. Sometimes called a boarding house. A famous one in the upper peninsula was known as the Klondike, and the ladies were called Klondikes.
  • Ball the Jack: To travel fast.
  • Bark Eater: 1. A lumberjack. 2. A sawmill hand.
  • Belly Burglar: A poor cook. Same as a belly robber
  • Belly Robber: A name often given to the cook, especially if he was a poor one.
  • Cackleberries: Eggs. Same as hen fruit.
  • Cootie Cage: A bunk or bed in camp quarters.
  • Death Warrant: A hospital ticket. The lumberjacks’ “Blue Cross.”
  • Dude: One who starts work in street clothes.
  • Easy as Falling Off a Log: Expression said to have originated with the river pigs who knew how easy it was to get wet in cold water.
  • Fink: Anyone who does not carry an I.W.W. (International Workers of the World red card)
  • Flap Jacks: Pancakes or griddle cakes. Stovelids, flats.
  • Flea Bag: A cheap flophouse, a louse-ridden hotel, often infested with bedbugs.
  • Goldfish: Canned salmon.
  • Got E’er Made: Quitting the job. The lumberjack had his stake made. Saved some money.
  • Gut: Bologna.
  • Hackmatack: The hemlock or larch tree.
  • Hardtail: A mule.
  • Hay: Money in a pay envelope.
  • Indian Silks: Overalls.
  • Ink Slinger: A logging camp timekeeper.
  • Jag: Being drunk.
  • Java: Coffee.
  • Jerk the Hash: Serve the food.
  • Keister: A packsack, same as knapsack, duffle bag, kennebecker, tussock.
  • Kill Dad: An empty tin pail where all lumberjacks threw old and odd pieces of chewing or smoking tobacco. Anyone could borrow from it for his pipe.
  • Lank Inside: Hungry.
  • Logging Berries: Prunes. A cook was once heard to remark, For me, I’ll take the prune; it makes even better apple pies than the peach.
  • Macaroni: Sawdust in big shreds.
  • Makens: Cigarette papers and tobacco. Also spelled makins.
  • N.G.: No good, in reference to some cooks. A poor cook.
  • Nimrod: A popular plug tobacco of loggers.
  • Off His Feed: A lumberjack sick in camp.
  • Old Head: A jack who had been around logging camps many years; an old-timer.
  • Pants Rabbits: Body vermin. Lice, crumbs.
  • Pat Him On The Lip: To thrash or whip a person.
  • Pimp Sticks: Cigarettes. Loggers and lumberjacks despised men who smoked cigarettes, and many foremen would not hire them. Their other names for cigarettes are unprintable.
  • Quinine Jimmy: A camp doctor.
  • Rail Kinker: A Railroad brakeman.
  • Reefing Her: Pushing a boat with a pole.
  • Rest Powder: Snuff.
  • Safety First: A camp welfare man.
  • Salucifer: A match. Same as Lucifer.
  • Sand: Sugar.
  • Swamp Water: Tea. On early camps more tea was used then coffee.
  • Taffle: A cookee, a cook’s helper.
  • Tally Man: One who recorded or tallied the measurements of logs as they were called by the scaler.
  • Teamster: A man who drove a team in a logging operation. Same as hair pounder.
  • Uncle: A superintendent.
  • Up The Pole: A logger on the water wagon, that is, one who did not drink.
  • Van Books: Camp store record books.
  • Wade: One of the early drag saws.
  • Wampus Cat: An imaginary animal to which night noises were attributed.
  • X-Tree: In Colonial days, any tree marked with an X was to be saved as a spar tree for the queen’s navy [sic] and not taken by fallers. Similar to broad arrow mark.
  • Yannigan: A bag in which a lumberjack carried his clothes. A packsack.
  • Yaps: Crazy, out of his mind.
  • Zippo: Corrupt spelling for gyppo. A logger who operated on a small scale. Same as chin-whiskered jobber.
In fact, since I'm having so much fun with this, I may bring you additional lists in the future.

So, go on talking like a pirate, even the lingo is not real. The point is to have fun.

But rest easy: If you want to talk like a lumberjack, you can do so confidently, knowing that this stuff is historian-tested and -approved, guaranteed 100-percent authentic.

Related Posts

• "What's in a Name? Mobsters and Loggers." (27 March 2011)

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