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A Dictionary of Sawmill Workers’ Signs
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A DICTIONARY OF SAWMILL WORKERS' SIGNS by Martin Meissner Stuart B. Philpott Illustrated by Diana Philpott Sign Language Studies 9 December 1975 @ LINSTOK PRESS 9306 Mintwood Street Silver Spring, MD 20901 310 Sign Language Studies 9 Martin Meissner is Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Stuart B. Philpott, Fellow of the American Anthropological Association, is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Their serendipitous discovery of an extensive lexicon of signs used by sawmill workers becomes even more significant with their evidence that signs of this kind--which have been called "emblems" and said to be used only in isolation--are in fact put into sentence-like utterances. Meissner & Philpott 1 2 3 4 NUMBERS I ONE. Numbers I to 12 are standard technical signs in the industry. They should be given in upright position, but sawyers often give them while resting hand on lever. 2 ONE-AND-ONE-QUARTER. Not a standard sign. Sometimes used by sawyer in one mill when cutting an order of this particular size. 3 TWO. ENGINEER. In one mill blowing steam whistle twice calls for engineer. Sign BLOW TWO (32-3) can be directed to man on the whistle. In conversation the sign can have either meaning. 4 FULL-TWO. Not a standard sign. Sometimes used in one mill for a cut of a full two inches wide. Sign Language Studies 9 5 THREE. 6 FOUR. MILLWRIGHT. In two mills blowing steam whistle four times calls for millwright. 7 FOUR-AND-ONE-HALF. STRAW-BOSS. A sideways motion of a number sign adds 'one-half' to it. In one mill this sign refers to the straw boss, as one notch below the foreman who is signed FIVE (8). 8 FIVE. FOREMAN. In one mill blowing whistid five times calls for foreman. Meissner & Philpott 9 SIX. 10 SEVEN. OFF GO. The sign means 'off' or 'go' when given with a sideways motion. 11 EIGHT. 12 NINE. Sign Language Studies 9 13 TEN. The clenched fist is used in several other signs. The context of these determines the signification. 14 ELEVEN. 15 TWELVE. 16 FIFTEEN. This is a FIVE (8) drawn across front of body horizontally . Numbers 3 to 10 moved horizontally signify '13' to '20'. FIVE moved downward signifies '25'. Signs for numbers above 12 are used infrequently. In the technical context sawyers and setters would for example just sign FIVE and know when it would mean '15'. Meissner & Philpott SPECIAL SIGNS WITH COMPLEX MEANINGS 17 MOVE BLOCKS FORWARD. Sweeping the head to the side and back is used by some sawyers to tell the setter to advance the upright steel blocks against which the log is held on the carriage. 18 LOG NOT TIGHT AGAINST BLOCKS. A backward jerk of the head or raised eyebrows make this a question. 19 FLAT AGAINST BLOCKS. Sawyer i n one mill tells setter that he will turn the log 1800, flipping the side just cut against the blocks. The setter releases the dogs and knows exactly when to clamp again. 20 FLAT ON CARRIAGE. Similar to (19), this sign indicates that log will be turned 2700 and the side that has just been cut will face down. The log can be turned only in one direction. 19 2 C C 20 Sign Language Studies 9 21 KNOT AGAINST BLOCK. The setter tells the head sawyer that a knot is keeping the log from resting firmly agains,t the blocks. In other contexts it might mean just 'knot' or even, as one man claimed, 'not'. 22 RELEASE CARRIAGE DOGS. BET. Used in one mill by head sawyer to indicate that he will turn the log, the setter to release dogs. Equivalent to (19) and (20) used in another mill, where (22) means 'bet'. 23 STACK 'EM UP. SLEEP TOGETHER. Used in statement (133-23-66) as a reprimand made a joke to a leverman who had sent two pieces down the line separately that should have gone.one on top of the other. 24 CAN'T HANDLE IT. NEEDS HELP. This tearing of the hair refers to a man fartherdown the line who can't handle the job...