Power Plant Men Learned Themselves Proper English

The electricians on our crew must have heard Gary Wehunt say the phrase “…of a morning” a dozen times before someone brought it to his attention.  I think it was Andy Tubbs while we were sitting in our Monday Morning Safety Meeting.  He said, “What did you just say?”  Gary repeated himself,  “I do ‘such and such’ of a morning.”  “Of a morning?  What does that mean?”  Gary asked, “What?  Of a Morning.  Isn’t that right?”

It’s true that there is a certain “Power Plant Speak” that seems unique to people that work in factories, power plants, line crews and other such situations.  I can speak only for the power plants where I worked.  I would describe the type of speech as “colorful”.  Not in a vulgar sort of way, but in a flowery way.

Power Plant Men in general didn’t curse as you may see them depicted in movies.  The majority of Power Plant Men I worked with had too much respect for each other to use foul language, and those that did usually apologized when something slipped out.  Saying things like, “Sorry Kev, you had to hear that.”

I was watching a show the other day on TV with my wife and it showed a group of men using vulgar language while talking about women.  I told my wife, I have worked around men in a number of Power Plants and I have never heard someone talk disrespectfully about women like that in the workplace.  For the most part, the men and women at a Power Plant are the cream of the crop when it comes to decency.

The people who had a tendency to use foul language were the “old-timers”.  Especially if they were an old-timer supervisor.  It seems that the culture before the 80’s was that using foul language was a normal way of communicating.  Even upper level supervisors would yell at people using curse words that today would seem very inappropriate.  I just caught the tail end of that, and it seemed to come mainly from the construction hands that were building the plant.  See the post:  “A Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“.

When I say that Power Plant Speak is colorful, I mean that the words they use are… unique.

Sometimes Power Plant Men used inappropriate words without knowing what they meant.  When something isn’t working properly, a Power Plant Man may say that it is “Gilflirted”.  This was a common word used by Power Plant Men, but few of them actually knew the exact meaning.  When Martin Prigmore told Diana Brien and I what it really  meant one day, I didn’t believe him.

He said his grandfather had told him what it meant in relation to a horse.  According to the Urban Dictionary, it is exactly what Martin said.  To us, Gilflirted just meant, “It’s fouled up.”  Almost no one knew the wiser. (Before you go looking for the exact meaning, let me just say that it is a disgusting word.  You should probably pass this one up.  I wish I didn’t know).  I remember my mom telling my sister when we were young not to use words and phrases when she didn’t understand the meaning.  Now I know why.

I used to keep a dictionary of words that Charles Foster, my first electric foreman and my foremost friend used that were “variations” of words that he meant to say.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Charles knew that he didn’t say some words correctly, and he especially didn’t write them well.  He had dyslexia so he was never a good speller.  I would check his spelling before he would send an important memo to someone.  Here is a post about when we figured out that Charles was Dyslexic:  “Personal Power Plant Hero – Charles Foster“.

Here are some of the words Charles would use:  Sipherned:  This meant to Siphon something.  Dasunul:  This meant Decimal.  Telepoly (prounounced similar to Monopoly):  This meant Telepathy (this was my favorite).  When we would both be thinking the same thing at the same time, Charles would say, “We’ve got that Telepoly going on here.”

Here are some more words….  Litatur:  Literature.  Tindency:  Tendency.  Stratety:  Strategy. etc…I think you get the point.

So, when the company offered a course called:  Practical English and the Command of Words… We jumped on it.  Maybe this way we could learn us some good English!

The Practical English and the Command of Words Course

The Practical English and the Command of Words Course

This is probably the best English course I ever had…. um… I mean “took”.  Geez.  You can see, I learned a lot….  I still have a tough time when it comes to writing run-on sentences.  This course has 48 lessons each of which would make a great Monday Morning Safety Meeting Topic… only it doesn’t deal with Safety, unless… you could argue… It is a safer workplace when people can communicate better….. okay.  Yeah.  I know.  That’s stretching it.  But it would be fun.  It was created by the “English Language Institute of America, Inc.”

Each topic in this course had an interesting title, like “Negatives from Positives”.  Or “Dangerous Resemblances”… Sounds like a murder mystery.  How about “Perplexing Plurals”?  “Fragrance, Odor or Aroma?”  — Yeah.  The title of an English class.

I had a couple of takeaways from this course that I still remind myself today.  The first one is to not end a sentence with a preposition.  Because a Preposition implies that something is supposed to follow….  I remember I used to bug my foreman Alan Kramer when he would end sentence with “….at”, which seemed to be the most common preposition ending word at the plant.  “Where’re you at?”  I used to repeat the word “At” whenever Alan would finish a sentence with “At”.  I know I was driving him up the wall.  The second one was “….to”.  Like “Where’re you going to?”

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

In order to get around ending a sentence with the word “At”, I remember the foremen trying to change the sentence like this…. “Where’re you at… Kevin?”  That’s great!  The sentence no longer ended with a preposition, but it still wasn’t “King’s English” was it?  <smile>

The easy solution to this is to stop the contraction “Where’re you” and spread it out to make “Where are you?”  No need for the “At”.  The contraction is what confuses the sentence.  You can say “Where are you going?” instead of “Where’re you going to?”  Just don’t contract “where’re” and drop the preposition.

Okay.  Another lesson about prepositions is that if you can’t just drop it, then you are probably using the wrong words and you need to reword the entire sentence…  Take this sentence… “Who do you work for?”  You wouldn’t just say, “Who do you work?”  That’ doesn’t sound right… “Work” is not the right word.  What you are really asking is, “Where are you employed?”  — oh… sorry for the lesson….  English class is dismissed… by the way… in all my years in school, I never made an A in English.  The best grade I had was a B+.

The second “takeaway” from this course was to never use the word “Get” or “Got” or one of their other words like “getting” or”gotten”, etc.  There is always a better word.  “Get” could mean too many different things.  “I’ve got it.”  What does that mean?  I figured it out?  I found it?  I retrieved it?  or even… “Enough already!”  How about “I have it”.  there’s a contraction again “I’ve” that has caused a person to throw in an extra word.

Whenever you want to use the word “Get” stop and ask yourself, what do I really want to say.  there is always a better word.  It is annoying because script writers for television shows should learn this lesson.  Every day (almost), I hear someone on TV say, “I’ve got to have it!” (instead of “I need it”) or some such thing.  Once you start listening for it, you hear it everywhere.  Oh.  Sorry… I did say… English Class dismissed… didn’t I?

I’m not sure how many Power Plant Men took the English course, but when it was over, once while walking through the Welding Shop at the beginning of break time I heard out of the corner of my ear, one welder asking the other….  “Tea?”  My first thought was “Geez!  They really took this “English” stuff seriously… until I heard the follow-up question…. “Sweet or UnSweet?”

There was another course that I think every person at the plant had to take.  It was called  “The Path To Dialogue”.  Well, this says “The Path Of Dialogue”, but it seemed like we always called it the “Path To Dialogue”, which seems more like going down a path, I suppose.

The Patch to Dialogue Course

The Patch to Dialogue Course

The course talked about each section of that diagram on the first page.  Let me blow up the diagram for you… (No!  Not like that!).

This shows ways to kill dialogue and way to improve it

This shows ways to kill dialogue and way to improve it

Down at the bottom, you can see the different ways that people use to try to kill the conversation.  Recognize any of these?  One side is withdrawing and the other side is, “Meet me out behind the barn (or in the elevator, as the case may be).”  The course started with the bottom of the pyramid and worked upward.

The course actually taught the student how to ask questions in a way that promoted a dialogue instead of working to crush it. This is a very useful course that was given to us by the Praxis Institute in 1995.  Everyone took it, but not everyone bought into the idea.

Just as during the Confined Space training, a few people who were in upper management (like Jim Arnold for instance) didn’t think things like this applied to them.  “A ‘Path To Dialogue’ is fine and dandy for the peons that work for me, but all I need to do is tell you what to do and the discussion is over.”  The rest of us learned some very valuable lessons from this course.  Oh.  Just as a reminder… Here is Jim Arnold in all of his glory:

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Years later, what I learned in this course comes in handy in my job today.  I run into a lot of things like “Monologuing” and “Hiding”.  The worst one is “Politicking”.  I still have to check myself to make sure I’m not doing the same thing.

I have always thought that the True Power Plant Men were made from “The Right Stuff”.  Taking these courses didn’t make them better people.  They were great men and women all along.  These courses just helped them express themselves better so that other people could understand what great people worked at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.

The thought of educating skilled labor to be better speakers and to give them the tools to communicate better with each other may slip the minds of plant managers around the globe.  I think that when a company steps up to the plate and shows that educating their own employees is an important part of their culture it tells the workers that they are respected.

The Electric Company always had a pro-education policy.  They would pay for your school as long as it had something to do with working for an Electric Company.  I had taken advantage of this benefit many times.  I took a lot of Vo-tech courses since we had a nice Vo-tech school just down the road from my house.

Around the year 1995, this policy became even more generous.  They said that they would pay 100% of the tuition and fees for employees attending an accredited school, and they would even pay 75% of the books required for the courses.  They even broadened the types of degrees you could take to almost anything.

Living in a college town, I found this to be a very enticing proposition.  I didn’t act on it right away.  I suppose I was waiting for a certain catalyst to kick me out the door.

The catalyst came one day during the spring of 1997 when my wife Kelly, who was working on a Masters for Healthcare Administration at Oklahoma State University, came home one night from class and said,  “Kevin.  We had a speaker in class today who owns a software company here in Stillwater.  He described the type of employee he wants to hire, and he described you perfectly.  You need to go back to school and get a degree in Computer Science!  What do you think?”

I had to think about this….  Going back to college, while working is a difficult task.  I did that before when I obtained my Masters in Religious Education from Loyola a few years earlier.  That took three years.  I always loved programming computers, only I had considered it more of a hobby than a job.  This would require a full four years of school if it was even possible, since I would have to work it around my job.  All of these questions went through my mind…

I thought and thought.  Then I thought about it some more…. Then…. 5 seconds after Kelly had asked me what I thought…. I had made up my mind…. “Okay.  I’ll do it.”  I’ll tell you more about that experience in some other posts.

When I finally was enrolled, it turned out that since I had already taken English back when I was earning my degree in Psychology in 1982, I didn’t have to take it again!  That was good… I was ready this time though.  I had taken the “Power Plant King’s English!”  It entitled me to continue working at the “Power Plant Palace” just up the road north of town.

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15 responses

  1. Isn’t that “telepoly” about the same as “ESPN”?

  2. Love your stories! Can’t wait to hear what happened next. 🙂 God bless you! Audrey

  3. The Practical English and the Command of Words course is cracking me up–those titles! I’m searching for an online version.

    You’re a great storyteller! Thanks for checking out my blog. I’m glad it brought me to yours.

    1. You’re welcome Katrina. I hope you enjoy learning about the interesting culture of Power Plant Men!

  4. command of proper English is important…

  5. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    AS THE PRODIGY OF AN ENGLISH TEACHER—I SALUTR YOUR EFFORTS—THEN AND NOW! 😀

  6. Thanks for the new post. If I remember correctly, Calvin Coolidge often used the phrase “of a morning.”

  7. Love it! My father was only 16 when he signed up to serve in WWII. While he was a prisoner-of-war in Germany for 16 months, he read every book the Red Cross sent to the prison camp and he improved his vocabulary in that way. He was self-educated before he earned a bachelor’s of business administration much later in life, and he was always correcting my sister and me when we picked up sayings at school that weren’t proper English. His mother had poor grammar skills and when he saw her, he was always correcting her too. 🙂 But I greatly admired him for taking the time to learn and improve himself, when learning hadn’t been a great priority for him. Just living a life of adventure! Great article!

    1. Thanks Terry for sharing your story about your father. Kev

  8. Good post, I use to end a sentence in ‘at’ and when I did a friend of my would always respond ‘Between the ‘A’ and the ‘T”. I stopped ending my sentences in ‘at’. Have a good day! 🙂

  9. Reblogged this on John Barleycorn and commented:
    I thank God for spell check.

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