The town of Butte, Montana has an amazing history of mining, and the colorful past made a lasting influence here.
The copper that was pulled out of the mountains helped to electrify the country, and improve the world. But there was a dark side to progress — in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many miners died and were badly injured just doing their every day job.
Many of the immigrant miners were from Ireland, and the city of Butte was legendary in Ireland. There was even a song in Ireland about Butte back then, with a verse saying “Butte was paved with Irish bones”!
As people do, whether a mile below ground in a hard rock mine, or in the battle field trench, they often resort to “gallows humor” to help deal with the situation.
Slang is one way they did that here, and some of the phrases and words are still with us:
* Tap ‘er light
When drilling a hole in a mine, and then packing the dynamite into the hole, the miners told the guy doing the tapping “tap ‘er light,” which means “hey, take it easy!”
One wrong move – or a tap too hard! – and the entire mountain could come down on their heads.
Now, when you hear the phrase “tap ‘er light” in these parts, it means “take it easy,” but whenever I hear it, I think of those miners and imagine the moment in the mine when he first started his tapping!
Big rocks and rubble in these parts are called “Duggans” (pronounced ‘doo-gins’), as that was the name of the undertaker, Larry Duggan!
As in, “hey that rock is so big, it’s a Duggan – if she falls on your head, it’s over!”
This is kind of a weird contraction, like a plural ‘you’, combining “you” and “all,” except “y’all” was already taken by the southerners!
You’se is pronounced ‘yoose’. Many natives of Butte, when they are trying to address a group of people, instead of saying “you guys,” they will say “you’se”!
And almost every time one hears “you’se,” it’s in a farewell. Such as, “see you’se later!”
Tap ‘er light!