Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hoover Dam Stories: Double Ugly and the Glory Hole

One of my favorite aspects of historical writing involves the use of slang. It is challenging to find terms that not only were used during the time period you are writing about, but that would be used by your character in a specific circumstance.  But we all find them: in journals, dictionaries, books, letters and oral histories.    

Although I like to use slang to be as historically correct as possible in my dialogue, I also want the reader to actually understand what is going on.  For example, if you were a Hoover Dam worker in the 1930's, the following sentences would make perfect sense to you:

Double Ugly waited in the Glory Hole until the gaffer was on the monkey slide off to get a spot.  He eased out of his Cornbinder and blitted the juicer with a perverted banjo and a Joe McGee.

However, for a reader, three hundred pages of that would get old real fast.

So the question is, how much do you use?  I don't have an answer (that would be too easy), but I rely a lot on beta readers to question certain terms or phrases.  If I'm talking about a thirty foot high stiff-leg and they put a big question mark beside it, then I know I either need to lose that term, or explain that a stiff-leg is a derrick.

In writing Ragtown, I came across a lot of great slang that was used by the tunnel workers in the 1930's.  Some made it in the book, some didn't, but I wanted to share a few of my favorites:    

Banjo: A shovel
Big Bertha: a double deck transport, with a capacity of 150 men
Blit: To beat up, or annihilate a guy
Build it: A phrase meaning it was time to go back to work
Candy Wagon: a light Ford truck/a tool truck
Cornbinder: an International truck
Crutch: a long handled shovel
Double Ugly: a truck driver
Easy-Dough: a boss
Gaffer: another term for foreman or boss
Goldbrick: a guy who doesn't put out much work
Glory Hole: the area where the dam itself was being built
Juicer: an electrician
Joe McGee: a makeshift tool
King Kong: the government cableway, the largest in the world at the time, with a capacity of 150 tons
Monkey-slide: two cableways, one that traveled on the downstream face of the dam, the other which traveled on the upstream face
Perverted: anything broken or 'out of kilter'
Stooge: a man who catered to his boss
Stiff-leg: a type of derrick
Twirp: one of the girls
Twidgett: another of the girls
Whoopee: a Ford pickup
Wood-butcher: a carpenter

Any great ones you'd like to share?


Dean Harkness said...

We still use Gaffer here in Norfolk :o)

Interesting post as always Kelly. Love some of those slang terms. Double Ugly is one I am definitely going to remember o)

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I'm writing the next book, and find myself starting to talk like them already. Yesterday when it was time to go back to work, I said to another nurse, "Time to build it." Of course she thinks I'm crazy, but, who doesn't?

Lorca Damon said...

LOVE IT! I have a perverted glory hole in my backyard, and I'm always having to tell my goldbrick to keep Twirp and Twidgett out of it! This just brightened up the whole weekend!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, Lorca. It's better than pig latin. lol

Justin Bogdanovitch said...

Watch out for perverted stooges in glory holes . . . that takes writing to a whole new level and into a different direction LOL I love the meaning in the words of yore. What fun to excavate this for your readers, Kelly. Terrific.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I just couldn't resist using Glory Hole. lol

Anonymous said...

a somebody, goodfella, wiseguy, friend of ours = made guy

a nobody = civilian

friend of mine = connected guy

spoken for, with = connected guy (by a made guy/under a made guy)

associate = of whatever crew he’s “with” or the wiseguy he was “spoken for” by

Go Bills!

Suzanne Shumaker said...

Great tidbits Kelly! This is one of the reasons I love historical makes learning history fun :) I love the term "easy-dough" for a boss - hillarious! Not MY boss, of course, she's great and a hard worker ... but some bosses are quite the easy-doughs!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Love that lingo!

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Easy Dough is great. Reminds me of the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Kellianne Sweeney said...

I will begin using the phrase "Build It" forthwith. :)

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

It's a good one for writing. Time to build it.

D.C. said...

Love the slang terms. Thanks Kelly!

Amberr Meadows said...

So that's the glory hole you were referring to. I never would have figured that out--I was haunted by the reality show that "The Soup" makes fun of all the time.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...


Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I have no idea what that is. Assuming The Soup is on TV?

Beth said...

Thanks, Kelly. That was really fun as usual. I loved the sentence with all the slang. Reminded me of the Army.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

As I'm writing the next novel, I'm trying to get back into character, which means I'll be talking like a dam worker again for a while. Glad some of my friends will understand me.

Anonymous said...

Too Awesome Kelly ! I could give you a lot of Jersey Italian slang but I dont think It would be an improvement for Your book. Let me know if you do though ! I just got my Hoover Dam lesson for the week. Love it ! C

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks,Charlie. I'll remember that if I write something with a Jersey Italian character!

Jay Scott said...

I've been using slang in a historical novel set in the 20s and you may want to research if these will work for the 30s. These are my favorites.

"Horsefeathers" and "Applesauce" were considered swear words.

"Don't take any wooden nickles" = don't do anything stupid.

"Iron" = motorcycle

"left holding the bag" = to get cheated.

Maybe those will work. :)