Pitmatic is two things:
- A dialect, with specific words and phrases peculiar to the area, like all dialects. When Crawling Chaos started, each town in the area had their own dialect, suffused into the greater whole. I never used some of the entries below [sp]
- A way of living & behaving. To be proud and aware. Courteous yet crude. Loyal & supportive, yet whimsical.
Crawling Chaos were not miners, but knew miners.
This is the Pitmatic Dictionary. Taken from the now-defunct sixtownships.org.uk website with additions by me [SP].
All these terms were used in the coalfields of Northumberland and Durham.
baff weekend – then fortnightly pays were the custom, the baff week was when there was no pay.
bait – a packed meal.
baitpoke – a bag to carry the meal in.
bait time – a stop for a meal.
bank – the surface.
barney’s bull – anything broken beyond repair was said to be like barney’s bull b——d.
bat – to strike a blow with the fist or a hammer.
blogged up – a pipe stopped up with dirt.
bonny gan on – serious trouble.
bord – a working place in the pit.
brat – a black inferior sort of coal.
bray – to beat or punish. “you cannot bray him back with a mell” (large hammer) described a pushing inquisitive person.
bump the set – anyone taking unnecessary risks was described as “he’ll bump the set some of these times”. a set is a number of tubs or trucks pulled along by a rope from a fixed engine.
canch – the stone below the thill or floor of a narrow coal seam that has to be removed as coal-getting proceeds.
cankery water – impure, poisonous water, red in colour.
cant – anything leaning over is said to be “on the cant”.
carvinarce – a smooth backed fossil easily dislodged.
catheid – a nodule of iron ore found in coal seams.
cavil – a working place in the mine selected by a draw.
cavilling-day – the day the draw takes place.
chinglees – pieces of coal the size of a marble.
clacks – pump valves.
clag – to stick.
clarts – mud.
cogley – unsteady.
coin – to turn from the straight.
corve – a wicker basket used in coal mines prior to the tub era.
cow – a device attached to the back of a set of tubs to prevent them running back if the rope breaks. crab – a winch used in sinking operations.
dab-hand – a capable or efficient worker.
dad – to hit as, “i’ll dad the lug”.
daddin – to beat the dirt out of pit clothes.
deputy – an underground official.
deputy’s-end – the easy or lightest part of the work.
deputy’s kist – the box in which he keeps his tools.
devil – a device for detatching the rope from a set of tubs whilst in motion.
dogs – nails for fastening down tram rails.
dollyshutting – blasting down coal without undercutting.
doon – down
dreg – a wood or iron stave put between the spokes of a tub wheel to prevent it from turning thereby retarding its progress.
duds – clothes.
dunched – to run into with force as “tubs dunching”.
ettle – to arrange beforehand.
fairly – steady.
fash – trouble.
fast jenkin : a bordway driven in the middle of a pillar.
femmer – weak or delicate.
fernenst – opposite to.
fettle – to repair or mend.
fizzle – a faint crackling noise caused by gas escaping from the strata.
fizzled out – the end.
flacker – to flinch or turn back.
flackered – finished, unable to do any more.
flayed – frightened.
flusher – a squip that fails to do its work.
forbye – besides (in the sense of except or an exception).
for-fairs – no trickery or underhand work.
fullick – a blow with great force.
fullen – full tub.
gannen – present participle of “to go” i.e. going e.g. ‘am gannen – I am going/leaving
gar – to make or force anyone to do something.
get-thi-blaw – to rest, to regain the breath.
gis-a-low – give me a light.
glinters – curved sails to guide a rope on to a sheeve.
graithe – to make ready or repair.
grove – a space in a seam from which coal has been taken.
hacky – dirty or filthy.
hedgehog – if a strand of a wire rope works loose and gets fast, it coils in a mass of wire on the rope. This is a hedgehog on the rope.
hinny – a term of endearment.
hitch – a fault in the strata.
hoggers – shorts miners wear in the pit.
howk – to dig or scoup out, or punish.
hoy – to throw.
hoy up – to vomit
honkers or hunkers – the buttocks. a favourite posture of pitmen is sitting on their hunkers.
inbye – to go from the shaft bottom into the workings
insence – to make someone understand – “insence it into him”.
jealoused – anticipated, something would happen.
joley – shakey, unsteady.
jowl – to test the roof in a coal seam by tapping it with the end of a stick, also a threat as “al jowl tha”.
keeker : surface foreman who deals with the coal.
kenner – the end of the shift.
kep – to catch.
kep-clack – the foot valve in a pump suction pipe.
keps – props on which the cage rests at bank while the tubs are being changed.
ket – filth or rubbish.
kibble – a large iron bucket used in sinking operations, also a small low tub with open end.
kink – a twist in a coil of rope that would damage it if pulled tight.
kip – the highest point on the rollyway where the tubs are detatched.
laid outs – if a tub of coal contains more than a certain amount of stone it is confiscated, the stones and the hewer’s token numbers are laid out for inspection.
limmers – wood shafts with an iron bow and a catdh to clip on to a coal tub carried on the harness of a pit pony.
marra – when two men work together each calls the other his marra, meaning equal.
mell – a large wood or iron hammer.
met – a measurement marked on a stick.
midgey – open fronted naked flame lantern.
mizzled-off – gone away.
nigh-hand-gannen – a shorter way.
onsetter – the man in charge of the cage at the shaft bottom.
outbye – travelling from the face to the shaft.
plote – pluck or bring down.
plunger – the piston in the water end of a pump.
powder-reek – smoke caused by firing a short in the pit.
progley – prickly.
rammel – stone that gets mixed with the coal in the pit.
rid – to clear out or tidy up a place.
rising main – the pump delivery pipes in a shaft.
rive – to tear.
rolleyway – engine plane.
roven – torn.
scapipen – getting coal without blasting.
scrush – crush.
scumfish – to suffocate.
shine a low – shine a light.
skeets – guides for the cages in a pit shaft.
slush hewer – a hard working coal hewer.
smart-money – compensation.
snore holes – holes in the strainer that make a snoring noise when the sump is drained.
spangued out – a prop forced out by pressure.
spelk : a splinter of wood that has stuck into the skin, also a small person.
spigot and faucet – a type of pipe joint.
spiting – storing up loose stone after a place has closed to make a way through.
sprag – a wood or iron stave put between the spokes of a pit tub wheel to retard its progress.
stowbord – an old working place into which refuse is put.
strum- the strainer on the end of a pump suction pipe.
stub and feathers – the stub is a wedge driven in between two tapered wedges in a bore hole to break down stone.
stythe – bad air.
sump – at the bottom of the shaft, a standage for water.
swapes – tub rails bent to go round a turn.
swalley – a dip or hollow on a roadway.
tageing – a hard fatiguing time or job.
tarry towt – a tarry rope.
tewed – fatigued as “it’s been a tewing job”.
tokens : pitmen’s tallies.
tommy hack – a combined hammer and chisel ended pick used by rolleywaymen.
tuemmen : empty tub. usually pronounced chummum.
varney – very near. Alternative version of var-nai
viewer – obsolete term for an underground official.
wedger : anything large or outsize.
weeken – lamp wick.
whimsey – a turntable from which a rope is uncoiled.
yard-wand – deputy’ s stick measuring one yard.
yebbel – able.
Main image: “The Fall of Numenor,” an allusion to Atlantis made by J.R.R. Tolkien well after HP Lovecraft did his stuff.