Tag Archives: construction

Six in one hand, half a dozen in the other

Interview and Context

DO – It just means its pretty much, two different ways of doing the same thing, and neither is better than the other.
Interviewer – And it gets used all the time here (in the wood shop).
DO – Yes.
Interviewer – When was the first time you heard it?
DO – I have no idea, like when I was a kid.
Interviewer – Have you always worked in shops?
DO – No, I heard it before. I don’t think it s necessarily a shop only saying, but it is heavily used in shops. Between… (shouts to shop manager, DM) would you agree that between you, me, and (other shop manager) that we say six in one hand, half dozen in the other— like how often do you think we would say that phrase, or a version of?
DM – Ehh, at least weekly?
DO – It, it’s generally used in the planning stage of a thing because we’re like, “How are we doing this, what do you think?” and it’s like, “How do you suggest we like—”
DM – There’s usually two or three ways to accomplish the same thing. At least.
DO – And sometimes there’s an advantage to one way and sometimes there’s not. It’s comparable.


This metaphor is used frequently in this informant’s environment. They mentioned that it is most common in planning stages of set construction, which explains why the regular student workers had not heard the saying (because they are not involved in the planning or designing stages), while set designers and technical directors had heard it.
Because six is equal to a half dozen, the metaphor is saying that there are multiple ways to achieve one goal, and neither way is necessarily better than the other, so it does not much matter which option they choose. However, it also signifies a tiny roadblock caused only by indecision between two equal choices.
The informant doubted it was a saying unique to construction shops, even recalling they had heard it before entering that specific culture, suggesting it was more of a crafting cultural saying than a specific construction one.

Money is first. Creativity is second. Safety is third

Text and Context

DO – Money is first, second is art, creativity, whatever, third is safety
Interviewer – Is this something that just you says?
DO – No, no. Safety third is like, grips will say it like all the time. Like carpenters and everything.
MI – Money comes first—you know getting paid, comes first. Being creative comes second. And being safe comes third.
DO – Right. Like the producers come in and will be like yeahyeahyeah! Safe first! Safety first! But then when it comes time, and it’s like no, no. You’re costing me money, get up on that fucking thing and get that done. Right? Uh, the director comes in, and is like, this is my vision! This is what we want to do! But its like, I can’t do that, I’d have to like— “I don’t care! Get it done!” y’know, kinda thing. And AFTER that comes safety. Like, what else, like what is fourth, I don’t know. So it’s be safe, unless it’s costing us money, or impacting our vision. Essentially
DO – So it’s something that people like us say, when we’re feeling like: alright, we’re putting our bodies on the line and not being treated well. We’re like, “Hey safety third!” Because they looove saying safety first. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
Interviewer – So it’s kind of an ironic saying.
DO and MI (at the same time) – Yes!
DO – It is very sarcastic. But it’s also very, very true. The number of times when we’re like, y’know, you’re talking about working like, sixteen hour days. You cannot work sixteen hour days and use a power tool safely. It’s impossible. Like if you’re sleep deprived, you cannot operate heavy machinery, power tools safely. Like you, you’re gonna do stupid stuff. We were talking about it, not so much as a danger type thing, but when you work sixteen hour days you get so—you make stupid decisions, and you do stupid stuff, and you come in the next day and spend the first two, three hours fixing the mistakes that you did at the end of the day before because you were just trying to get stuff done. Y’know? Uhhh, but given that fact—a lot of studies say, like if you’re driving on the road and you feel a little sleepy. What do they say? Pull over and take a nap. You know, like whatever. Because that’s the safe thing to do. But all the time productions go, like, sixteen hour days when it’s costing them money, like why don’t you just rent the sound studio another week or push for— nope, that costs money, we gotta get it done. We have to get it done. Or why don’t we cut this scene? No, no, director wants that scene, or whatever. Get it done.


The informer(s) clearly had strong feelings about this saying, as they spoke extensively on the subject. I collected this saying while the informant(s) were sitting in the break room of their wood shop. We were talking about general wood shop sayings, so it didn’t come up in the context in which the saying would generally be used, such as during construction.
It is interesting that this is a response to another common saying, “safety first,” and would not stand so well without the popularity of “safety first.” It shows a folk group within set construction, while director and producers are the out-group, because the hierarchy creates a binary separation where the people in power (producers and directors) risk the safety of those they employ. The set construction workers are aware of the danger they are sometimes being put in, and understand the bitter irony of their superiors pretending to care, or caring until it interferes with their money and creative vision.

Every tool is a hammer


DO – In scene shop construction, “every tool is a hammer, except for a screwdriver, which is a chisel.” Basically what that means is you can use anything to bang something (like getting a stubborn bolt through a hole), but a screwdriver you use for cutting things like a chisel.


The informant was working on constructing a set for a theatrical performance, when a coworker asked for a hammer for a bolt they were struggling with. The informant walked over, grabbed their measuring tape, and whacked the bolt into place. Then they recited the proverb.


There is a tool for every function one might need when constructing a theatrical set, props, furniture, etc. Some of these tools are very bizarre in appearance, have no obvious appearance upon first glance, or have only one, minuscule function that may get used only once every few years because it is not a common technique. Other tools have always remained relatively the same, like the hammer and chisel. That may be because… anything can be used like a hammer to smash something, and any strong sharp thing can chip away at a softer material.
Wood shops will likely have hammers that are made to be durable, ergonomic, highly engineered improvements on the most rudimentary tools humanity has always had. But sometimes they aren’t within reach or you weren’t expecting to need a hammer so you didn’t bring one. Same for specially crafted chisels. But theater construction is fast-paced, and usually, rudimentary tools and basic hand-eye coordination will do the job just as well and way faster than going to get a real hammer or chisel.

An American Ghost Story

“There was a man who lived in a house in the middle of the woods. There weren’t any neighbors. I don’t remember where it was. It was like the middle of America. So he was getting construction done, they wanted to build like another house for their wife and the construction workers were having problems because there was always this girl like who kept showing up. And they would be like “Hey you know you need to leave. You need to get out of here. You need to leave.” 

And one day they like went up to him and they were like, “Hey sir, you need to tell your daughter to like stay in the house.” Like and he’s like, “Oh that’s not our daughter she visits from time to time.” And they were like, “Oh, what the frick?” Because there’s no houses around there or anything you know. 

Anyways, so the guy’s grandson goes to stay at their house, um after like everything is done. And he’s like sleeping in the living room kitchen area, all the lights are off. And at like five in the morning he hears like the light turn on and someone’s in the kitchen and he’s like, “Oh that’s weird, Imma go check it out.” Um cuz it’s like the same kind of room. And like he goes in the kitchen and the light turns off and he sees somebody walking in a white dress. And so he thinks it’s his grandmother… or grandfather, he can’t really see them and so he goes back to bed. And then wakes up in the morning and is like, “Grandfather why were up so late like what… like what were you doing?” and he was like, “Oh that wasn’t me like, that was like”… I don’t know what he named her like Tiffany or something and he’s like, “Who’s Tiffany?” and he’s like, “Oh she’s a ghost who visits from time to time.” 

Like what the?”

Context: The piece was collected during a casual at-home interview. I knew the informant loves horror films and ghost stories so I asked her to tell me her favorite ghost story. 

Background: The informant is my twenty-two year old sister. She learned this piece from someone she used to date. She and the person who originally told her the story live in San Diego, California. She is an avid metal and alternative music fan with a love of body modifications including tattoos and piercings as well as horror films. She claims the story functions for her as evidence for the existence of ghosts.

Analysis: I find this ghost story to be especially ominous because so many components (for example, the girl’s back story, how the grandfather knows her and why he isn’t afraid) are unexplained. Although the transcript may not reflect this, the story was told in a very similar manner as you might expect to hear gossip from a close friend or sister. Surprisingly, the tale is not cautionary. The little girl doesn’t really do anything grossly disruptive nor does she demand vengeance for past events, but rather simply asserts her presence. Instead of justifying the ghost’s existence or its purpose, the story merely asserts that supernatural forces exist whether you choose to view them as such. The characters’ reactions are contrasted with the grandfather’s seemingly calm demeanor, suggesting that the more common reaction is fear of the supernatural. Since the initial assumption of the construction crew and grandson were that the ghost was not supernatural but rather was a real person, the audience’s potential skepticism is addressed. All of these elements are heightened by the storyteller’s fervent belief in the veracity of the story which serves to reproduce the belief.