Graveyard / Dog / Lobster Shift

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12 comments on this post.
  1. Yve:

    Hi The term graveyard shift dates from the night after a corpse was buried. A bell was attached to the corpse and someone sat up all night, in case the bell rang, to dig up the poor unfortunate. We also get the term ‘dead ringer’ from the same source. The term Wake, when a party was held around the body laid out in the coffin, was to give the ‘corpse’ time to awake before burial.

  2. Nancy:

    Not according to the great word detective himself who said some time ago regarding wake:

    “The primary modern senses of “wake” all center on that “become or stay alert” meaning. The “wake,” or vigil over a body held between death and burial in many religions, harks back to the antiquated “watch or guard” sense. No one, contrary to what you might read on the internet, ever expected the object of such a “wake” to actually “wake up”.”

    And even longer since he posted “dead ringer”:

    “The “ringer” in “dead ringer” comes from the phrase “ring the changes,” which literally means to ring all the bells in a bell-tower in varying sequences, and metaphorically means to repeat something in a variety of ways. As slang, “ring the changes” means to substitute a bad or false thing for a good thing, and it’s that “phony” meaning that gave us “dead ringer.”

    First found in about 1890, “ringer” was originally horse-racing slang for a horse with a proven track record that was surreptitiously substituted for a less qualified, untested horse. “Ringer” is now used as slang for anything that has been tampered with or unfairly altered. The “dead” in “dead ringer” is simply an intensifier, meaning “absolutely,” and since a “ringer” must resemble the thing it replaces, “dead ringer” has come to mean something indistinguishable from another thing or person.”

  3. Terry Fitz:

    I don’t know if the late author Patrick O’Brian could be considered an authority on language, but he should probably be considered an authority on British naval life circa 1800. In just about all of his books, he refers to the Marines aboard Naval vessels as “lobsters” – apparently in reference to their red coats. Is it possible that the “lobster trick” is related to that? Also – and this is just an O’Brian joke pure and simple – one of his characters is asked why the “dog-watch” is thus named. The character explains, “Because it is cur-tailed.”

  4. George Reuther:

    Contrarily, during the mid 80’s while working in the Hotel industry in Boston. Worked many shifts of 12-noon to 8pm which at the time was referred to as “The Dog Shift”. Great for someone in their early 20’s; had the good fortune of staying out late and waking up late without missing work.

  5. The Old Lobster Trick « Shannon McDermott:

    […] has had other, more mysterious names – dog watch, lobster trick, lobster shift. According to The Word Detective, “dog watch” dates back to the eighteenth-century, when it was used by sailors for the […]

  6. Ernest Adams:

    I don’t agree about dog watches being unpopular with the sailors because they made the sailors miss their dinner. Thanks (again) to Patrick O’Brian, I know that dinner for the foremast hands was served at noon. The two dog watches are from 4 PM to 6 PM and from 6 PM to 8 PM.

  7. Breck:

    Graveyard shift also comes from the propensity ill people have of dying in the earliest hours of the morning.

  8. Pati:

    Saved by the bell…same origins

  9. Ned Rodriguez:

    When I worked in law enforcement, our dog watch was a shift beginning at 7 in the evening and ending at 3 in the morning.

  10. Jim Nelson:

    In the pulp and paper industry the term dog shift is fairly common, paticularly in the Southern United States. The shift is usually 11 PM to 7 AM. I remember it being described as the shift where everyone but the dogs were sleeping.

  11. John Shannon:

    FYI, the late late shift (graveyard to most of us) is called the “hoot shift” by longshore workers, at least on the West Coast.

  12. Keith Hallam:

    Quote….This was originally (in the 18th century) a nautical term for a short period of duty “on watch” (two hours instead of the standard four). Such “dog watches” were, however, very unpopular because they made the sailor miss his normal dinner time….Unquote

    Not only, but also. The Dog Watches are still used in the Royal Navy, 1600 to 1800 and 1800 to 2000. It had nothing to do with mealtimes and no-one missed any meal. Mealtimes were a half hour before to a half hour after the watch change.
    The Dog Watch was split in two to give an odd number of watches in 24 hours. With a 4hr on 4hr off system, the crew would be doing the same watches every day, i.e. half the crew would always get the forenoon watch and the other half would always get the afternoon watch. It also worked in the more relaxed watchkeeping system of 4hr on 8hr off.
    In submarines, years ago, we had a modified system…. between 0800 and 2000 we did 2hrs on 4hrs off and between 2000 and 0800 we did 3hrs on 6hrs off. That 6 hours off sounds like a half decent nights sleep, yes? Except for the damn Klaxon!!

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