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On Stir-Bugs, Skitters, and Truck Skinners

One of the things I love about The Grapes of Wrath? The dialogue.

It’s filled with slang and colloquialisms, and it can be difficult to read at times, but it feels right. I can hear the characters speaking when I read it. That’s much different than, say, Gone With the Wind–where the dialogue seemed over-the-top and goofy–and Neuromancer–where the dialogue seemed artificial and stilted.

Within conversations throughout The Grapes of Wrath, you’ll want to pay close attention to some of the word choices and terminology. Steinbeck included quite a few funny terms that I had never heard of before reading this book.

Some examples (with definitions from Clifs Notes):

Dogs: Slang term for feet.

Example: “Thanks, buddy,” he said. “My dogs was pooped out.” (after getting picked up by a passing driver)

Skitters: Slang term for diarrhea.

Example: “They et green grapes. They all five got the howlin’ skitters. Run out ever’ ten minutes.”

Stir-bugs: Slang for prison inmates.

Example: I wonder what the stir-bug I got for a cell mate is doin’. 

Truck Skinner: A skinner is a mule driver; here it refers to a truck driver.

Example: “A guy that never been a truck skinner don’t know nothin’ what it’s like. Owners don’t want us to pick up nobody.”

Heller: Rowdy, troublesome person

Example: “I was much worse. I was a heller, you might say.”

IITYWYBAD: If I Tell You, Will You Buy A Drink?

I have no idea what exactly this means. Even the context in the book doesn’t explain it.

Piker: A cheap, stingy, tight-fisted person

Example: “I ain’t a piker. I got to get a car. We’re goin’ to California. I got to get a car.” 

Your takeaway from today’s post?

The last situation on earth you want to be in is in the same prison cell as a stir-bug with the skitters.

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Well, “If I Tell You, Will You Buy A Drink?” means “quid pro quo”, doesn’t it?


    August 15, 2012
    • Makes sense. I’ve honestly never heard it used.


      August 15, 2012
  2. I wonder if “Piker” is somehow tied to Zebulon Pike, the western explorer. Ol’ Zeb covered a lot of ground here in CO.


    August 15, 2012
  3. Nel #

    When my grandmother has been walking for a while, she’ll say “my dogs is barking!” with a fake groan and a smirk.


    August 15, 2012
    • You know, now that I think about it, I once heard Kevin on “The Office” talk about his “puppies hurting.” He then proceeded to put his feet inside an ice machine.


      August 15, 2012
    • Connie #

      When I take up to much foot space under the table my nana says ‘call in your dogs’


      August 16, 2012
  4. The “skitters” always cracked me up while reading the book. There are just way too many ways to imagine this one visually.


    August 15, 2012
  5. Connie #

    I say piker – but not to mean cheap- we use it when a person says they are going to attend something but later pulls out, or when they turn up but leave early .


    August 16, 2012
  6. This book, hands down, is my favorite. I’ve read multiple times and yes, I’d say the dialogue is part of what makes it so unique. I’d have to agree with Paul’s assessment of that phrase – I’m pretty sure it means, “If I give you the info you want, will you buy me a drink in return”.

    If you haven’t already read some of Richard Russo’s work, you might enjoy him too. He has great dialogue. My favorite read of his was The Risk Pool (but he’s also known for a few of his books becoming movies, like Nobody’s Fool with Paul Newman).


    April 29, 2013
  7. Slangs just keep emerging by the day. Nice post!


    May 1, 2013
  8. 腕時計 アウトレット


    October 25, 2013

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  1. Weekly Writing Challenge: A Manner of Speaking | The Daily Post
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