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Odd Wisconsin Archive

He Must Have Been Yaps

One of the more fascinating aspects of any culture is the jargon that its members speak. Whether they're an ethnic community, professional colleagues, a sports league, or a religious sect, every group that shares the same values and lifestyle will evolve a unique vocabulary for talking about it.

For example, a lumberjack arriving at a northern Wisconsin hospital supposedly explained his injuries this way to the nurse who treated him:

"The ground loader threw the beads around a pine log. He claimed he had called for a Saint Croix but he gave a Saginaw; she gunned, broke three of my slats and one of my stilts and also a very fine skid." The nurse said, "I don't understand," to which he replied, "I don't either. He must have been yaps." *

Translation: The worker in charge of lifting logs onto a sled had a chain fixed around a pine trunk. He said he asked for the wide end to be raised first, but the loader raised the narrow end instead. Rather than rolling up onto the sled, the log swung endways and hit the narrator, breaking three ribs and a leg, and interrupting the work. The narrator concludes that the loader must have been crazy.

One of the nation's premier efforts to preserve such vocabularies is the Dictionary of American Regional English, which has been headquartered at the UW-Madison since 1963. Over the decades, its staff has made liberal use of the Society's immense library and archives collections.

Many of the unique terms used by Wisconsin working-class residents -- not only loggers but also fur traders, miners, sailors, railroad crews, and farmers -- have been entered in our online Dictionary of Wisconsin History,including a list of lumberjacks' nicknames that is sure to amuse you.

* Sorden, L. G. Lumberjack Lingo (Spring Green, Wis., 1969): 46.

:: Posted in Curiosities on January 30, 2014

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