George Rowles: Glossary

Throughout George Rowles memoir; Chaps among the Caps he often refers to a hidden language within the trade, dedicating a chapter to Companionships, Chapels and Jargon. In his publication The Line is on he includes a glossary at the back. I have added to his glossary.

Glossary of the Printing Trade Terms

A Chapel.– A meeting of compositors is called a chapel, and the members of the chapel form a companionship (shortened to ‘ship) pledged to watch over interests of the L.S.C. And its members in chapel.

A Dark Chapel.- Is an unofficial, off-the-record Chapel of two or more members during working hours.

A Dry Chapel.- No Alcohol allowed within the Chapel.

A Wet Chapel.- Is a Chapel were alcohol is allowed to be consumed during working hours.

A Wrong Fount.- a wrong fount is a letter of a different fount found among the correct fount. A shady kind of fellow is also referred to as a “wrong fount.

An “Out.”- When a compositor accidentally omits a word or a phrase, it is termed an “out,” and if several words are missing the reader writes in the margin of the proof “ Out – See copy,” and pins the copy to the proof for return to the compositor for correction.

Bridging.- A compositor is said to have “bridged” if he fails to appear at the appointed time to put the line on, and forwards no reason for his absence.

Casting off.- Estimating how much space a piece of copy will take up.

Chopper.- A companion is choppery when he is surly and unapproachable and therefore looks hatchet-faced : hence having a chopper on.

Clerk of the Chapel.- A member elected to act as a secretary at meetings, take and read minutes, collect, subscriptions and dues, prepare Chapel sheets, pay Chapel money into the Society, and give each quarter a proper account of Chapel events. The Father and the Clerk are the only responsible officals recognised by the Society on the Chapel’s behalf.

Cocking a Deaf ‘Un.- Pretending not to hear something particularly addressed to oneself.

Cutting the “Line.”- When a mealtime break is due, the Father of the Chapel calls “Cut the line, Gentlemen,” and each compositor stops work, resuming when the Father calls “Line on, gentlemen.” All piece hands must have an equal chance of work provided, and in this manner it is ensured. The copy provided by the Printer is lifted according to the Chapel rota. When the last page is sent into the foundry the Father “cuts the line,” and announces the number of men required to stop for the next edition ; the others go home.

Earwigging. – Listening to conversation that is intended to be private.

Fat.- Work easy of performance at adequate rates.

Father of the Chapel.- A compositor elected by his fellows to see that the customs of the trade, scales, conditions of work, etc., are strictly followed, and disputes avoided. No other member of the Chapel is allowed to interview the Printer or management unless accompanied by the Father.

Frames.- A Compositors work was his frame. Sometimes the desk at which a compositor at would be labelled his or her frame.

Front pages, Back pages, and Side pages.- Where two compositors are working side by side they are known as side pages ; where three are working, the one in the middle refers to his companion as “ my right-hand side page” and “ my left-hand side page” ; if men are working back to back they are known as back pages ; if frames or machines are set facing each other, the men are front pages.

G.H.- Is an expression which means that the one who uses it is indicating to another that the one treating a subject under discussion should go home and teach his mother how to suck eggs. When a piece of stale news is related the cry goes round “G.H.!” a G.H. Is someone who tries to palm off stale news as his/her own.

Gobblers.- A gobbler is a fast-setting compositor who then “gobbles” who as much copy as he can set. In the general trade a gobbler is one who does as much overtime as possible.

Grassing.- Is to obtain temporary work on a newspaper, say during the holiday season, in the hope of later obtaining a permanent post on the same newspaper. Many compositors in regular newspaper employment started as “grasshands”. (p57)

Having the Organ.- This is an old term and dates back to times of unemployment. Most Chapels had mutual loan clubs, the official of which is known as the “Organ Master.”  Members paid a weekly subscription and could borrow money and pay it back over months with little interest. Any private borrowing of a temporary loan would be “having the organ”. The Organ.- Was therefore the collection of money.

Holy Terror.- Foreman who rules with an iron fist.

Imperial Father.- The head of the Chapel who has the final say. Overall responsibility.

Inky Way.- The Press trade.

K.D. – The meaning of K.D. is to keep everything dark; that is, not to relate it outside the present company.

Knowing Your Boxes.- Being aware of what you are doing or talking about. One of the first things an apprentice compositor is taught is the layout of the upper and lower cases, which means that the geography of the types contained in them.

Local.- Local newspaper.

Machine Compositor.- Is a compositor with the added knowledge of the Linotype, Intertype, Monotype, Ludlow, etc. He is usually called an operator.

Miles’s Boy.- Miles was a printer in the old day, whose apprentice was knowing and artful : to whom all sorts of news came. Hence “According to Miles’s Boy”

Missionary Work.- Is that undertaken by a compositor who works in a non-union house for the purpose of recruiting the non-unionist for his union. (p57)

Nailing.- To nail is to talk derogatively ( usually in a quiet fashion )of a another compositor.

The Nailbox.- is a traditionally mythical box full of nails, long and short, which are said to be driven into a person who is absent.

N.F.- A fish rises to a fly as bait : A companion who hears or observes something intended for him and ignores it is said to be “no fly.”

“No, You Don’t!”- This means the information given, or relation of action taken, is not believed by the others present; and heads are shaken as the words go forth : “ No, You Don’t!”

On the Coach. – In stage-coach travelling times, if one person wished to avoid another during the journey he would seek an outside seat while the other had perforce to travel outside high up on the coach. If two compositors fall out ( publicly or privately ) they avoid each other. Companions are quick to notice this is Chapel, and the word goes round : “ Bill’s got Jesper on the coach. ”

On the Stone.- Taking a compositor away from one class of work and putting him at work on a page waiting to be sent to press. The stone is an imposing surface on which pages are prepared for press. It is of metal but was formerly a flat stone.

Pica-thumpers.- For the benefit of layman, “Pica” refers to size of type used in the old days largely for parliamentary and similar work. Thumping was the lifting of the types from the cases into the composing sticks. Hence “pica-thumpers,” a term applying, in fact, to all hand-piece workers. The coming of the composing machine displayed them.

Piece Work.- Work paid for at the rates laid down in the piece scales.

Pieing Your Case.- To pie a case is accidentally to mix the letters so that they have to be sorted out and put in the right boxes.

Putting the Line On.- When compositors are engaged on piece work each must be ready to start to set his first line when the Father calls “Line On.” Copy is lifted simultaneously and work begins. This is known as the “simultaneous lift” and is strictly observed in daily paper companionships.

Putting up the Half-Double.- A half-double rule was always printed at the end of an article ; nowadays half-singles are the fashion. Therefore, “to put up the half-double” is to end conversations on a particular subject between compositors.

Ratting.- Is working under the recognised price.

Ships.- Short for companionship. A Chapel could have many Ships,

Spiking.- When copy is left incomplete, or taken away before the article is finished, it is “spiked,” and if it is returned later the compositor to whom it is given to resume setting calls it “taken up the spike.”

‘Stab Work.- Work paid for at the established weekly rate.

Takes.- A “take” is a piece of copy set by the compositor.

The House.- This means the Society house ; the offices of the London Society of Compositors.

The Line is On.- “The Line is On, Gentlemen” is usually called out by the Father of the Chapel, and indicates the beginning of work, and for compositors to start setting type. To “Cut the Line” is to stop work which could be called for number of reasons, from rest breaks to important meetings.

The Line is Off.- “ The Line is Off, Gentlemen” is called to indicate the end of work. There were very few dry Chapels when the “the Line is Off.

The Organ.- A mutual club formed by compositors and paid for by them at so much per week, enabling those who wish, to borrow money and repay with interest to the secretary, or Organ Master, as he is known.

The Printer, or the “O.”- A Printer of a paper – that is, he who is in charge and is responsible for seeing the pages off the stone to the foundry or the machine – is known as “the Bloke.” So is an overseer of a composing room. He who is responsible for the paper is called a Printer, while the overseer maybe responsible for a great variety of jobs, but is never called the Printer.

“The Slate is Up.”- A slate is provided in each office where piece workers are employed. When a compositor finishes his “take” and finds no more copy to lift, he writes his name on the slate and waits for work, calling out, “Slate Up.” When there is more copy, “takes” are lifted in order of names on the slate.

The Swinger.- The last “take” of the copy in the box is termed “the swinger,” and to “grab the swinger” is to drop the “take” just set and get to the copy box before other striving companions, who have disconsolately to put up the slate.

Tramp or Tramping.- Tramping is to journey for work. A tramp- compositor was a journeyman who travelled as far as need be for employment. A good “Tramp” was usually well experienced, full of worldly knowledge and enjoyed his time on the road.

Trotting.- Leading a companion “up the garden path,” or leg pulling.

Whack!- When compositors are gathered together and a tall story is told, or it be doubted that the truth has been told by a speaker, a whack with the composing stick on the frame is given as an indication of unphilosophic doubt.

Wrong Cast-Off.- To estimate something incorrectly. A compositor will say to another who has made a wrong statement through guess work : “You’ve wrong cast-off.

You Can!- This is a phrase that increases or decreases in effect by inflection as it is pronounced. It means that the speaker presents to his hearers the whole matter under discussion for them to do with as they wish. There was once a compositor who was called “You Can Have It Jones” on account of his deprecatory attitude to the whole universe.



Rowles, George. Chaps Among the Caps. Unpublished. Burnett Collection of Working-Class Autobiography, Special Collection, Brunel University Library, 1:600

Rowles, George E. The Line is on. London: The London Society of Compositors, 1948.



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