By Richard W. O’Donnell


Old engraving of gold miners.

Do you know what they used to call underground miners? “Underground Savages!”

What was an “Irish baby buggy?” It was a slang expression for a wheelbarrow.

A “Cackler” is what they called a miner who let others do the heavy work.

“Johnny Newcome” was a novice miner.

Don’t forget the “Little Red Wagon.” That’s what those traveling toilets they had at some mines were nicknamed in the old days.

Modem miners, no doubt, have their own slang; but the language used by miners years ago was very interesting. And fun, too!

A “Nipper” was a boy who ran errands for miners. A “Shoofly” was a transverse passage in a mine.

Miners were also known as “Muckmen.”

How about “Red?” That’s what they used to call gold. Why? It’s a bit of a mystery.

“Blue?” That’s what they often called silver? Once again, you figure it out.

As for “Sparkle,” well, that’s an easy one. That’s what they used to call diamonds.

Who was “Quinine Jimmy?” That’s another name for the doctor on duty at a mining camp. He was also known as “Old Pills.”

Windy shot” is an explosion “that fails to break the coal.”

“Tick hole” is a small hole or cavity in a rock. So was “Vug.”

A “Tool nipper” was another name for a youngster who worked in the mines.

List of historical Alaska gold strikes. “Sourdough” was a miner who came south from Canada seeking to make his fortune in America. Most of the “Sourdoughs” returned home with empty pockets.

“Stomachlobber” was what they called the camp cook. He was also called “Sizzler” and “The gut burglar.”

“Strawberries” is what miners once called beans. “Sow bosom” was bacon. “Belly wash” was the term for non-a1cholic refreshments. Coffee was “Blackjack” or “Blackstrap.”

To “break one’s pick” was to become discouraged, and quite a few miners did.

“Ground hog” was a small hand-truck used to push ore cars inside mines. They were also called “Barney,” “Larry,” “Bullfrog” and “Mule.”

Let’s have a quiz now. Some common examples of old mining slang follow. See how many you recognize:

1. Glory hole; 2. Muck; 3. Nosebag; 4. Powder monkey; 5. Slave markets; 6. Aladdin’s lamp; 7. The picklock that never fails; 8. Buzzard dollar.

Answers: 1. A mine that is loaded; 2. To work with a shovel; 3. Lunch Break, usually inside a mine; 4. A miner who knows how to use dynamite; 5. Where miners are hired; 6. To find gold; 7. Gold; 8. A silver dollar

Last but not least: What is a “Boar’s nest?” That’s a mining camp where women are not allowed.