Left-handed monkey wrench (1873)

Page Stephens hpst at EARTHLINK.NET
Thu May 6 13:53:28 UTC 2004

Barry's upload brings up an interesting topic.

There are a lot of gags which people use to introduce the novice into their

A couple which I have used in my checkered life are once you have passed
over a rail crossing you tell the sucker, "I
notice that a train just passed." Then when they bite and ask you how you
know you reply, "I can see its tracks."

Ever pole a hog? The gag goes as follows: You look up into an oak tree and
then say to the sucker, "Damn. We're going to have to pole the hogs this
year." When the sucker bites and asks you what you mean you reply, "Well
some years the frost comes too late and the acorns stay up in the tree where
the pigs can't get to them so you have to sharpen a pole and stick it up the
pig's ass and lift it up to the tree so that it can eat the acorns."

Left handed monkey wrenches, sky hooks, snipe hunts, etc. fall into this
category of insider jokes designed to make the novice look foolish.

The humor is essentially an initiation ceremony and once the sucker passes
the test they end up being an insider themself.

While researching this subject - I was attempting to discover what a "swan
necked valve" might or might not be - I ran across the following url which
you might find interesting.


Not all such statements are designed to fool the novice, of course, because
I remember the time that my friend the folklorist Archie Green and I were
walking across the University of Illinois campus, and Archie who had earlier
had a career as a carpenter heard a high pitched whine. Archie said, "That's
a Skil Saw."

He was correct but not being familiar with the tool I wouldn't have
recognized its sound from a hole in the ground though now I know how to
identify it.

Page Stephens

----- Original Message -----
From: <Bapopik at AOL.COM>
Sent: Wednesday, May 05, 2004 11:29 PM
Subject: Left-handed monkey wrench (1873)

> ---------------------- Information from the mail
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Bapopik at AOL.COM
> Subject:      Left-handed monkey wrench (1873)
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> LEFT-HANDED MONKEY WRENCH--442 Google hits, 824 Google Groups hits
> LEFT-HANDED SCREWDRIVER--226 Google hits, 666 Google Groups hits
> LEFT-HANDED PENCIL--756 Google hits, 39 Google Groups hits
>    The "left-handed" version seems to have appeared fairly soon after
"monkey wrench" itself.  Maybe the word "monkey" adds to the flavor of the
> Stevens Point Daily Journal - 6/10/1896
> ...hot sun, an' when I sprung the LEFT-HANDED MONKEY WRENCH on the uncle
It.....ask Uncle Matt if he had a heft-handed MONKEY-WRENCH. How was I to
know? I ain..
> Stevens Point, Wisconsin   Wednesday, June 10, 1896  605 k
> Trenton Evening Times - 8/16/1909
> ...read: wise; give the boy a LEFT-HANDED MONKEY-WRENCH. He held his
faqa.....The druggist, wise to the Joke, handed the youngster a bis empty
> Trenton, New Jersey   Monday, August 16, 1909  628 k
> Indiana Weekly Messenger - 1/19/1910
> ...man replied: "I'm wise to this left handed MONKEY WRENCH business. I'm
from.....a native whether he was right or left handed. "If you are left
handed." he was..
> Indiana, Pennsylvania   Wednesday, January 19, 1910  675 k
> MARY DEAN. Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science
(1871-1885). Philadelphia: Jan 1880. Vol. 25; p. 68 (9 pages)
> Sixth page:  At first he does not know enough to stop when the "laying-off
bell" rings, and the men are asking him if he "ain't sorry he's learnt the
trade," and are sending him from one to another for "the half-round square"
and "the left-handed monkey-wrench;"...
> Author: Bailey, James M. (James Montgomery), 1841-1894.
> Title: Life in Danbury: being a brief but comprehensive record of the
doings of a remarkable people, under more remarkable circumstances, and
chronicled in a most remarkable manner, by the author, James M. Bailey, "The
Danbury new man"; and carefully compiled with a pair of eight-dollar shears,
by the compiler.
> Publication date: 1873.
> Collection: Making of America Books
> Search results: 1 match in full text
> Page 261  - 1 term matching "left handed monkey wrench"
>    ESTHER writes from Lowell, Massachusetts, that there is a gentleman
there who wants to borrow a left-handed monkey-wrench.  Wouldn't a
cross-eyed potato do him?

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