Paul Bunyan Talk: The Lost Language of American Loggers

old fashioned loggers

Big blue, bindlestiff, bullock, donkey doctor, clam gun, homeguard: do you know what any of these terms mean? Probably not, unless you’re a logger of the old-fashioned variety, working for a company that still uses traditional methods and the terminology to go with them. You might even think you know what words like cruiser, highball, macaroni and schoolmarm mean, but in the old logging parlance, you’re probably wrong. That’s because the old language of loggers is so specific to the industry, it almost sounds like gibberish to the untrained ear. In 1942, writer Elrick B. Davis created ‘Paul Bunyan Talk,’ a glossary of logging terms tied to the old tradition, and it’s a delight to peruse.

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‘Macaroni,’ for example, referred to sawdust. A ‘hoot-nanny’ was a gadget used to hold a crosscut saw when a log is sawed from underneath. A schoolmarm is a somewhat uncouth nickname for a crotched log, while a ‘cookee’ is the camp cook’s helper. A ‘gandy dancer’ is a “pick-and-shovel man.” Many of the terms are technical in nature, referring to very specific equipment and techniques. Others, you’ll note, have become a part of American English parlance – like ‘haywire,’ and the age-old warning cry of ’Timberrrrrrrr!’

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“Lumberjacks call themselves loggers,” says Davis in the opening. “To call them lumbermen is an invitation to brawl, and it is safer to call a sailor a marine than to refer to a logging camp as a lumber camp, wherever trees are logged. To a logger, a lumberman is a sawdust eater down at the macaroni mills.”

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By the time this glossary was composed, much of this language was already on its way out. Reading through it is like being temporarily transported to a time and place long gone. Check it out in full over at JSTOR.

Top image via Wikimedia Commons

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