Saturday, August 12, 2006


Image Source: David Manthey
(Chain-Linked via Wikipedia to David Manthey)

Back in the hot, humid Arkansas summer of 1976, I worked for Jim Scott as a chainman.

Scott was a mathematician and surveyor who also had musical and artistic talent and could draw well and even paint despite his red-green colorblindness. He also had (and still has, I presume) an IQ of nearly 190 ... whatever that implies, some sort of high intelligence, certainly.

Scott was a tough boss but fair-minded, and I learned a lot about intelligent self-reliance -- in contrast to my innate contrariness -- by observing him and reflecting over the years on what I had observed.

The first thing that he taught me was how to 'twist-fold' a chain ... and not really a chain, either, despite the image above. What we used was a 66-foot metal band to measure off land in the wilds of the Ozarks. He then showed me how to use a surveyor's spirit level, the old, hand-held type for judging how high the other chainman should hold the chain.

Such as: "Hold the chain about pecker high, right about the knees!" Or so the older hillbilly working the other end of the chain used to call out whenever the slope of the ground that he was standing on had brought him so low.

That hillbilly was a humorous fellow. Once, when our head surveyor offered me a chew of tobacco that I declined, my fellow chainman suggested that the next time I got offered a chew, I should reply, "No thanks, I don't even chew horsesh-t."

Most of the time, though, we were not chewing even the fat but lugging around our chain, surveyor's level, hatchet, plumb bob, hammer, laths, stakes, and other equipment through thickets where we had to cut a line, and up and down hollows that forced us to measure off shorter segments (increasing error) or much longer segments at angles (increasing labor).

One tough place was on an isolated part of the Spring River valley, where we were looking for a corner marker to set up the surveying instrument and where I learned a new old Ozark word. Trying to get our bearings, we asked an old hillbilly -- in his 70s, I reckon -- if he knew where the marker, a metal spike driven into the ground, was located.

"Yeah," he replied, his face wrinkling with concentration, "but you got to go antigogglin over that hill to get there."

Anti-what!? I thought. But it was pretty clear what the word meant -- the way wasn't straight, which was what we had figured all along.

At home, I asked my grandmother if she knew the word antigogglin, and I explained the situation.

"Yes," she said, "I know it."

"What does it mean?" I asked.

"It means that you have to go all over the place to get somewhere," she told me, explaining its meaning in the context.

I took that word with me to college and have used it ever since.

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At 4:15 PM, Blogger xenobiologista said...

Haha, thanks for a good story and 2 new words to my vocabulary (I was Googling "chainman"...thought it had something to do with surveying).

At 5:07 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Xenobiologista, for the visit and compliments. I'm glad that you enjoyed the story about my chainman experience of many years ago.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:50 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

as a native of the Deep South and an amateur etymologist, I read with great interest your remarks re: antigogglin
Though from the South, I'm not familiar with 'gogglin' in 'as to shake or tremble[in the south Ms. "neck o' the woods" of my youth] This is just speculation, but do you think the 'gogglin' part could have anything to do with the eyes? Hence, anti-against gogglin-the eyes......askew? Would enjoy your thoughts on such a sublime mystery-Thanks

At 6:18 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Greg, that's an intriguing speculation. I've not seen any etymology that clearly explains the origin of the term. If the prefix is "anti-", then you may be correct . . . but I am no expert.

By the way, I saw the now-septuagenarian Mr. Scott a little over a year ago, and he recalled "antigogglin" as meaning "crooked." That's neither here nor there, but it's a follow-up of sorts.

Jeffery Hodges

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