Washboard road

Wilson Gray hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET
Fri Apr 23 13:28:01 UTC 2004

Thanks, Jim! BTW, do you recall the song, "Muleskinner Blues," by The
Fendermen, I believe, from ca. 1960? (Rhetorical question. No reply
needed or expected.) Now that you mention it, I do recall Larry
Nivens's catskinners as though it was only yesterday. Sigh! Time flies,
whether you're having fun or not.


On Apr 23, 2004, at 8:51 AM, James A. Landau wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "James A. Landau" <JJJRLandau at AOL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Washboard road
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> In a message dated Thu, 22 Apr 2004 15:20:52 -0400,  a puzzled Wilson
> Gray
> <hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET> asks:
>>  CATSKINNER???!!!
>>  ?"Catskinner" = operator of a Caterpillar or similar brand of
>>  roadgrader, e.g. Kotatsu, based on traditional "muleskinner" = driver
>>  of a multiple-mule team, once used for a more-or-less similar purpose
>>  in road construction?
> Yes, "catskinner" is a portmanteau of "Caterpillar tractor" +
> "muleskinner".
> It probably refers specifically to operators of bulldozers and
> caterpillar
> tractors made by the Caterpillar Corporation and competitors, not to
> construction equipment operators in general.
> I don't recall when or where I first heard the term, but I remember
> using it
> with the wife of a heavy equipment operator some 30 years ago.  A
> Google
> search turns up over 1200 entries for "catskinner" but only a few
> dozen refer to
> bulldozer operators.  The rest range from a ski slope somewhere to a
> type of
> knife (e.g. www.constcon.com/Hava-Knife/knives.html ) and includes
> several fanfic
> sites for fans of Larry Niven's "Man-Kzin Wars" science fiction
> universe.
> Since the Kzin resemble cats (tigers, not housecats), the reference I
> would
> guess is rather literal.
> OED gives three citations for "catskin" with the meaning skin of a cat
> used
> for fur.  There is a bowdlerized version of the folk song
> "Kafoozalum", of
> unknown age, which includes the lines
>       He had a trade which prospered well
>       In skins of cats and ancient hats
> "Muleskinner" is listed in the OED2 with a first citation of 1870,
> meaning
> "N. Amer., a prairie mule driver" but I think it was used in the Civil
> War with
> no reference to the prairies.  The "skinning" part is probably a
> reference to
> the mule drivers' use of their whips on their mules.
>           - Jim Landau

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