21 Pulpy Pieces of Lumberjack Lingo
Sure, lumbersexuals can walk the walk (and wear the beards and plaid), but can they talk the talk? If you've always wanted to talk like a real-life lumberjack, thanks to the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), we've got 21 pulpy pieces of lingo to get you started.
1. ALL HANDS AND THE COOK (AND THE WHISKEY-JACKS)
The lumberjack version of the nautical all hands on deck, this phrase is used to announce an emergency, such as a log jam, requiring everyone’s help “without exception,” says DARE. The dictionary has quotes from a variety of states and regions, including Maine, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Pacific Northwest. As for the whiskey-jack, it’s another name for the Canada jay bird.
2. DAYLIGHT IN THE SWAMP
3. BOX UP THE DOUGH
To box up the dough means “to cook” in lumberjack slang and might be heard in New England and the Great Lakes. We’re guessing that the expression might have to do with kneading or beating up dough to make into bread.
Logger lingo for a large sausage and, according to DARE, named after a “rather sizable rifle cartridge of the time.”
5., 6., 7., AND 8. LIVER PAD, SWEAT PAD, MORNING GLORY, AND STOVE LID
When you think of lumberjack fare, you might think of pancakes, although we’re not sure why. This New York Times article makes the connection between Finnish loggers and their affinity for their homeland’s flapjacks, which “bear no resemblance to fluffy American-style,” but are dinner plate-sized, heavy, and dense.
Whatever the connection, lumberjacks had a lot of ways to say “pancake.” Liver pad for instance, named for their resemblance to the medicated pad worn wherever the liver’s supposed to be. Sweat pad is another, especially referring to a tough pancake and perhaps the bottom one in a stack, according to a DARE quote from Wisconsin: “Do I have to eat the sweat pad, or will you bake me a fresh pancake?” Other monikers include morning glory, which also refers to a doughnut, and stove lid, named for its griddle cake resemblance.
9. COUGAR DEN
No, not that kind of cougar. In logging, a cougar den refers to the bunkhouse, probably in reference to the animal lumberjacks might encounter. The phrase might be heard in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region, and New England.
10. AMEN CORNER
While in the South and Midland, the amen corner refers to a section of a church, usually near the preacher, “occupied by those leading the responsive amens,” says DARE. In lumberjack lingo of New England and the Great Lakes, it’s a place in the bunkhouse for storytelling, where it was “old-timers” reminiscing or preachers, also known as sky pilots, spreading the word.
11. SNAKE ROOM
The snake room might be considered the opposite of the amen corner. It’s a room in a bar for drunks, often lumberjacks, to sleep off their drunkenness. Why snake? According to a quote in DARE, the barkeeper or bouncer would slide the drunk lumberjacks “head first,” and presumably prone and snake-like, “through swinging doors from the bar-room.”
12. BLANKET FEVER
After sleeping it off in the snake room, the next morning some lumberjacks might be hit with blanket fever, a condition which involves staying in bed after the other lumber workers have gotten up, according to Leland George Sorden in his 1969 book, Lumberjack Lingo. In general, blanket fever refers to a lazy lumberjack.
13. BOARD WITH AUNT POLLY
If you really are sick, you might go board with Aunt Polly, which means “to draw insurance for sickness or accident,” says DARE. We’re not sure what the origin of this idiom is, although polly is slang for chamber pot in some regions.
14. COUNT (THE) TIES
To count (the) ties means to be fired or to quit a job. The phrase applies to both logging and railroading, and according to a 1958 quote in DARE, comes “from the days when the only way to leave camp was to walk down the railroad.” Other quitting terms include drag her in the Pacific Northwest, New England, and Great Lakes, and hit the pike scattered throughout the country and also meaning to leave or depart hastily.
15. EPSOM SALTS
In the Southwest, New England, and Great Lakes, the logging camp doctor might be called epsom salts, a once trademarked name that now refers to magnesium sulfate in general. In the Pacific Northwest, the physician might be referred to as iodine.
16. SECTION 37
Section 37 seems to be some mysterious, nonexistent place. According to a 1958 DARE quote from a Pacific Northwesterner, “The usual township contains 36 sections, and 37 is not supposed to exist.” Therefore, the term describes something strange and unusual. A 1969 quote says that in New England and the Great Lakes, section 37 is a kind of lumberjack heaven, “where all good loggers go when they ‘cash in their chips.’” Finally, a 2001 quote from Wisconsin describes section 37 as where greenhorns go, where you cut timber if you’re stealing it, and a night at the tavern.
17. SKY WEST AND CROOKED
The adjective chin-whisker is used derogatorily among loggers and refers to something small-scale and unprofessional, especially pertaining to a farmer.
19. DUNG HISTER
Lumberjacks really had a thing against farmers. A dung hister—where histe is a variant of "hoist"—is a farmer and “to call a lumberjack a farmer was an insult and meant a fight,” says a 1969 quote in DARE.
20. AND 21. TIMBER BEAST AND SAVAGE
While you don’t want to call a lumberjack a farmer, you also don’t want to call him a lumberjack, at not least in “the woods of the Pacific Northwest,” says DARE, although he “may admit being a timber beast or a savage.” Logger seems to be the preferred name while a lumberjack refers to someone who works in “toothpick” timber, that is “the small second-growth pine and hemlock, in Minnesota, Michigan, and Maine.” As for timber beast, while it’s a self-characterization for “any guy who works in the woods,” outsiders “better not use the expression.”
Want more lumberjack lingo? Check out these books which were integral to many of the DARE entries: Logger's Words of Yesteryears by Leland George Sorden and Isabel J. Ebert; Lumberjack Lingo by Leland George Sorden; and Woods Words: A Comprehensive Dictionary Of Loggers Terms by Walter Fraser McCulloch and Stewart Holbrook.