Sociolinguistics in Practice: Paper Mill Talk, Part Three

Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” (1962), with its intuitive vocabulary, has inspired me to document my linguistic environments. I will write about a different environment each week without explaining any vocabulary used. My hope is that readers will gradually learn what these words mean as they read on and notice if I insert a word that does not belong. Through this, I will explore belonging: does knowing the words of an environment help increase belonging, even if one has never been in the environment themselves?

Third year, wow! This time, I know everyone. Their bare faces should be masked but they’re not! Because it’s life at the mill, always its own world, this time ignoring the mask mandate. I am one of the few masked workers, so I do not eat noon lunch or midnight lunch in the shack nor breakroom. No air conditioning for me. No respite from earplugs or noise. No germ-free environment. I also do not get close to anyone. The mask makes me feel very unheard (no one could ever hear me before anyways) but at least I can sing to myself or scream without anyone sensing my frustration at ignorance. I also felt dizzy all shift, but electrolyte freezie pops or drink mix from the nurse helped, and I was all alone by the 3” core cutter when I myself almost passed out. With my mask evidently announcing my political beliefs, I became a target for many political rants. My frustration and ostracization separated me from my beloved old friends as I constantly feared that I would get sick. Things once familiar and comforting were regrettably different. It was disillusionment. And 3 weeks of shutdown. 

Masked me would arrive at 6am or 6pm and punch in and talk to my partner if I had one. Then log in to MES, email, and machine reporting; check the D2 crew log with the L/M notes, the machine time notes, the Ops-support mill-wide nights or days report, the headers I had to order. Towmotor inspection! Just electric one though because I’m on 36 again. Operator’s supposed to do hoist inspection but they never do. Just initial and mark. That’s the same. The first set is already done! Go up to the backstand, cut down the roll because it was roll-for-roll, bring out the hoist, put the straps under, lift up and make sure it i’s tight, wait for operator to let the air out of the chucks and move them out, pull steel core out, put it down in front of the planks and the jumbo roll, then give the pink jumbo roll sticker or red defect sticker and the coater slip to the operator. Put straps under, lift up, flip or do non’t flip — the operator should know — into the backstand — check the beam to get it lined up, center, left into the chuck, then check on the right and in! Operator nod, go down, take off strap, hoist back to the wall. Then take off a couple of rounds, paster, connect the old roll to the new roll, move hoists back, and wait for the tail to go through the rewinder. All the same, always the same. In and out and over and around, to the front, to the old rolls. Let the air out, the operator will do the trick and tape the rolls up, print out the header tags and the belly tags, I put them on, and pick up the pulled set and bring them down onto the conveyor and set down perfectly or they will fall off the line. Bring hoist all the way up and forward. The operator will put the new shafts into the machine with the cores I cut all set up, perfect. Check to line them up while I strip the rolls, pick up the back shaft and put into the holder, kick the front rolls onto the conveyor while the back rolls move down the line without the shaft, repeat, put headers on, make sure A is A and B is B and C is C and X is X. 4 cut, 2pp so no need to wait on the platform; they can get kicked right onto the upender and up and ready for my forks. Mask still on though it’s hot hot hot. The other rolls need to wait until the upender is back down or safety incident. Operator got the machine running good so ready to put new cores for next set on the shafts; put the metal holder on, kick them up, measure tape air. Nod so I get my rolls, bring them to offline on a 127 pallet, 2 trips, left upender, then done. A break until we repeat this all for the next set, so I check my email and the machine time notes and don’t forget to enter the second hand checks on the reporting system. Did I do the scratch test to see if it was coated side in or out? It was thermal C-3 … but how many splices again? Bathroom, snack, music, secretly use phone, ready to pull the set! And repeat over and over until noon lunch or midnight lunch, now at my desk, and over and over until prep for partner — if I have one — cut cores, sweep, garbage, last set! Sit and wait and punch out fast. Earplugs out and away, speed walk to car, drive fast away. Get away. 

All this is the same. It was the same as the Stockholm fun I had always had, but I had no fun this year. I am afraid of the proximity and the shouting too close and the lack of calmness and the not knowing. It feels like another world. But back again tomorrow or the next day or the next day until it’s the end of the summer. No sweet goodbyes but instead mass emails. Was that my last roll? My last order? Already looking ahead to Oxford. Will I come back again next year? Do I want to?