Lumberjack | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book

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A while ago, I had written a post with 45 idioms from the world of boxing. As JSTOR Daily reports, in 1942, writer Elrick B. Davis collected a glossary of terms tied to the old logging tradition. At the time he was writing, the lumber industry had begun to see American forests as giant tree farms. Loggers used trucks and tractors to bring in the harvest, and treated the job like any other, living in towns near forested areas with their wives and children.

But Davis delights in the earlier tradition of lumberjacks who spent most of their time in logging camps far from civilization, creating “a vocabulary so pithy and colorful that its memory stays alive in loggers’ sentimental hearts.” Although, as it turns out, much of that vocabulary didn’t make it into Davis’s account since “most of the loggers’ lingo has been, through the years, semantically too high-test for print even in a scientific journal.”

  1. Barroom: Sleeping quarters in a New England logging camp.
  2. Boomer: An extremely migratory worker.
  3. Brains: A company official.
  4. Bull-: A superlative prefix suggesting the ultimate in size, power, authority or virtue.
  5. Deacon seat: A bench made of halved logs, which usually runs from one end of the camp to the other.
  6. Drag day: The day of the month on which a man can draw wages in advance of a payday.
  7. Fink: A company guard or private detective.
  8. Flunkey: Cookhouse help.
  9. Haywire: Generic term of disparagement. Before the mechanization of logging, hay for the camp draft stock–horses and oxen–was a necessary supply. Thrifty loggers saved the bales’ binding wire and used it to repair straps, replace links in a broken chain, and hold together cracked handles and stoves. They would also use it to hang wet clothes to dry or even to replace a zither’s G-string. Consequently, any logging outfit that was notoriously scant in its equipment came to be known as a haywire show.
  10. Hijack: Jack is any man. This gave birth to jackroll; to rob a man who’s helpless with drink, while a skidroad holdup man’s command to “stick them up!” gave birth to hijack.
  11. Muzzle loaders: Old-fashioned bunks into which men had to crawl over the bed’s foot.
  12. Jerk: A (whistle) punk.
  13. Peavey: A logging tool named after its inventor, Joseph Peavey; a blacksmith who improved the river hog’s cantdog into its present form in 1858.
  14. Pie in the sky: Bourgeois respectability; from the Wobbly epithet for bourgeois heaven.
  15. Skid-row: from skid-road, or the cheap business district in any large city. Originally the name of the forest road down which oxen hauled logs over greased cross-skids, as the first stage of their journey to ultimate destruction. By transference, the part of the city which caters to loggers’ pleasures and needs.
  16. Sky line: A logging method where a taut steel cable reaches between two trees.
  17. Steel gang: Railroad track-laying crew.
  18. Snooze (aka Swedish condition powder): Strong, peppery, moist snuff used instead of chewing tobacco. Introduced to the woods by Scandinavian loggers.
  19. Stiff: Any blue-collar working man.
  20. Timber!: Traditional cry of warning.
  21. Tin pants: Waterproof clothing.
  22. Tote team: The horse and wagon or sleigh used to take supplies to a camp.
  23. (Whistle) punk: A boy who blows signals on the engine whistle.
  24. Widow maker: A tree or branch blown down by the wind; the most dangerous hazard to a logger.
  25. Wobbly: Specifically a member of the Industrial Workers of the World but also any excessively earnest labor agitator.

Read Davis’ full glossary of logging terms on JSTOR. You may also enjoy Marilee Wein’s real-life stories from logging camps. Marilee is the granddaughter of a British Columbia coal miner and a logger, and her stories fascinating!