Fishing for New-Old Words
FOR those of you who like to learn a new word now and then here's one! I like new words. Did I tell you that I learned two new words up in Kaybeck last time we went to help our Canadian friends make maple syrup? Two new French words. I wanted to put a little notice on the wall, asking everybody to support the Boston Bruins, and I needed a thumbtack. What's the French word for thumbtack? T'umbtack. Le t'umbtack. Then I wanted to tell Pierre-Marie Bolduc about the fellow who tried to ride the flywheel in the sawmill. What's the French word for flywheel? Le flywheel. This new word I'm about to teach you is not, really, a new word. It's very old, and you can find it in earlier dictionaries.
I was reading an excellent article in the New Yorker magazine by Alec Wilkinson about the Tlingit Indians of Admiralty Island, southeast Alaska, and in describing their fishing gear he used the word ``gangion.'' Except for saying this is the word used by the Indians, the author left it that way, and here I was in Maine nodding my head at the word, wondering at the spelling.
I grew up with ganging. Ganging is the word in the old dictionaries, and in Maine we pronounce it gan-jing or gain-jing. It was the winding on fishhooks, and the word came from the British Isles with the first fishermen to work the banks. The word is heard today in extended meanings at Gloucester, New Bedford, on Cape Cod, in Maine, and in Atlantic Canada.
Take a trawl line. In the days when groundfish were taken from dories, a trawl line might be several hundred yards long, and at intervals it had shorter lines running down with baited hooks. Buoyed at each end, and also here and there along the way, the trawl line was made ready on shore or aboard the ``mother'' schooner, and coiled in a ``trawl tub.'' As one ``dorymate'' rowed the dory, the other would ``pay'' the trawl line over the stern, making a ``set.''
As the line was payed, the baited hooks flapped and flopped a good deal, and it took consummate skill to pay out a tub of trawl line and not get fouled. A stick was used for paying, so hands and arms were never close. After a time, the trawl would be taken up and any fish dehooked into the dory. The empty trawl line would be coiled into its tub to be rebaited later for next time.
Chuck Rawlings had a wonderful Grand Bank story during World War II about the Newfie doryman taking in his trawl by himself, and a Canadian corvette came by looking for German activity. Jarge said he had, indeed, sighted a sub. He pointed south-southwest. ``How far away?'' asked the corvette.
``Two tubs of gear,'' said Jarge.
The making of a trawl line called for ``ganging.'' This meant not only the twine used, but the manner of winding it. And year by year, as trawl nets took over from trawl lines, and the art of winding ``ganging'' began to disappear, the word came to mean simply cord or string. A deep-sea cod line was ``cod ganging.'' Cunner ganging, much lighter weight, was great for kite strings. Mother would tie a Christmas bundle with ganging. Farmers have been known to make temporary repairs with baling wire or haywi re, but a fisherman would do the same with ganging.
Ruth Moore, our Maine seacoast novelist, used the word ganging in her stories, but always spelled it gangeon. I asked her once how-come. ``Readers who don't know the word would see ganging and read ganging - as in `the boys are ganging up.' And the way folks say it around Bass Harbor, it's more gangeon than ganging.'' Ruth knew the word well.
But there was an aural fault with Ruth's deviation. Maine folks like to clip final g's - singin', speakin', lookin'. But there are some words we don't clip, and give the ``g'' its full value - ceiling, ganging. Ruth misspelled ganging on purpose; I think Alec Wilkinson wrote gangion as the best he could.
I think the last time I heard ganging used in normal Down-East conversation was by Dottie Simpson, who was telling how she hung up a jelly bag. ``A hank o' ganging,'' she said. But in thinking of doing this essay, I did call on Harlan Wallace, a Friendship, Maine, lobster buyer who fished a good deal. Sure, he knew all about ganging. Used to do ganging on miles and miles of trawl sets. Had a skipper who was some old fussy, and he wouldn't allow sloppy ganging. Had to be snug and tight, and smooth. ``How ,'' said Harlan, ``did ganging ever get to Alaska?''