This is the second edition of the TMRC Dictionary. I wrote it in late summer or early fall of 1960, a little more than a year after the first edition. The original document is shown in a typewriter font, and my comments now (September, 2005) are in italics.
By Peter R. Samson
AN ABRIDGED DICTIONARY
of the TMRC LANGUAGE
---The words defined in this dictionary are the property of the Tech
Model Railroad Club of M. I. T. and all rights to use and define
these words are strictly reserved.---
ABANDON MITCO NOW: cry of friction fans as opposed to traction fans.
MITCo was the trolley line (known in the jargon as electric traction) on the club layout. Non-trolley modelers would heckle "Abandon MITCo now!" The social meaning "Troublemakers versus trolley lovers," balances the mechanical meaning "Screech of unlubricated rotary fans, unlike smooth-running electrical ones."
ACQUISITION: a means of getting something for nothing. There are many
Acquisition A: you dials your number, and you gets your/his
Acquisition B: you dials your number, and you gets the
Outside Line (q.v.).
Acquisition C, D, etc. see an ancient FOB (vol. IV, no.3).
The usual use of the term "acquisition" was the first of these, for an engineer to initially get control of his train (or someone else's, by mistake or mischief). The FOB is described below.
ADVANCE: that which if you don't have you stop before you don't what
At TMRC, advance was the control of the block of track ahead of one's train. Overrunning one's advance was a way of losing control of the train altogether.
ARRC (pronounced: Arrgh!): 1) The Automatic Railroad Runner Computer
in the same ancient FOB; 2) the automatic switch thrower.
The automatic switch thrower was set up for a train to travel automatically over every piece of track on the layout.
A.S.A.P.: (getting nowhere fast) as soon as possible.
It seems that the term was typically used in vain.
BASSEX AND ROWRFOLK COUNTIES RAILWAY AND STEAM NAVIGATION COMPANY:
1) is not dead; 2) a spectacularly large test track.
This was the industrial switching area of the layout, which was something of a stress test for rolling stock.
BK TOWER: a non-portable brakeman's board for switches and occupancies
in the Berkmannville Area. Has a buzzer which sounds like
the Fuse Alarm (q.v.) and the Raunch Alarm (q.v.).
A user-interface flaw: three different alerts with the same indication.
BLACK BOX: has random inputs and (for cash) outputs.
Tools and parts not properly put away were subject to confiscation, and said to be put in the Black Box until redeemed on payment of a nominal fine. The definition works on the engineering sense of a black box, whose internal workings are unknown and which can be described only by observing the relation between its inputs and outputs.
BLOCK 29: at once subterranean, subaqueous, and sub-etheric.
Since the time of the first edition, this block was built. It ran under both land and water features of the layout, but had not yet been connected electrically.
BLURB: public enlightenment.
My tongue-in-cheek self-endorsement.
BOX: 1) a large cardboard box under the layout, labelled from A1 to BB6
bearing electrical goodies; 2) a larger wooden enclosure,
under the east end of the Tower, labelled from C2R to OJG,
bearing members' goodies.
This contrasts the systematic labeling of boxes under the layout, holding club property, with the unordered labeling of members' boxes by their initials.
BRODERICK: 1) a station on the TNP; 2) a little man who lives under the
Great Dome and swamps us with electrical goodies.
The station on the layout was named for the man (laboratory manager for MIT's Electrical Engineering Dept.)
BUNKIE: a chair or person that is ridden.
The club had several bunkies: short wheeled stools that could be sat on to move comfortably under the layout. The term was also a disdainful epithet, popularized in a novelty song of the 1950s by The Old Philosopher: "Is that what's bothering you, bunkie?"
CABEESE: defined plural of caboose.
Goose -- geese; caboose -- cabeese.
CASBAH: the Orifice (q.v.).
In the late 1950s "Come with me to the Casbah" was a cliché.
CHANGE MACHINE: 1) see that old FOB under "Changed Fund"; 2) a service
of SNB&TCo (q.v.).
The member who kindly made change eventually built an impressive machine which made change automatically.
CLOD: beneath our feet.
Both literal and figurative senses were used at the time.
COCA-COLA: subject of discussion and confusion, mostly consumption.
Club members drank lots of Coca-Cola.
COCA-COOLER: a cooler for Coca-Cola.
By the time of this edition of the Dictionary, the club had bought one.
COCA-COOLIE: a coolie for the Coca-Cola Company. See Coolie.
The man who delivered Cokes and took the empty bottles.
COKE FUND: abolished June 2, 1959. Replaced by Emergency Fund2 and
Coke Machine Fund.
The fund that made the down payment on the Coke machine.
COKE MACHINE FUND: a demonstration of the Club's railroading talent: an
example of Machine legislation.
Political puns, of course, on railroading and machine.
COMM.: short for Committee, or red tape.
In TMRC usage, nearly always a committee consisted solely of its chairman. Nonetheless, that person had to be duly constituted.
COOLIE: one who does menial labor; always in demand.
There were always many club projects in need of work. The term was used without ethnic implications.
CROCK: 1) something which fails the purpose of its design from the
moment of its conception on; 2) something which by normal
or accelerated decay is utterly worthless; 3) a Coca-Cola.
Sense 1) refers to something designed on a fundamentally bad principle. Sense 2) is in general use, e.g. "old crock."
CRUD: cruft (q.v.).
The gag here is to define the obvious word in terms of the more obscure.
CRUFT: that rubbage which magically amounds in the Clubroom just before
you walk in to clean up.
The word was in use at the club when I wrote this definition. The sense is of detritus, that which needs to be swept up and thrown out. The dictionary has no definition for "crufty," a word I didn't hear until some years later. Rubbage is a rare term for rubbish, but I had heard it used growing up in New England.
CRUM: a mild curse.
A straightforward definition.
CUBBYHOLE: small cardboard box under the north end of the Tower,
labelled from 1A to 9K.
Continuing the joke about box labeling.
CUPBOARD: a drawer with a door.
There really were a lot of storage areas around the clubroom, and a lot of different names to distinguish them. This definition was included for its internal rhyme.
DISMAL: without steam.
The late 1950s saw the general replacement of steam locomotives by diesel. Those at the club who mourned the lost glamor and majesty of steam power referred to diesel engines as dismals.
DISPATCHER: Mr. Hyde.
The authoritarian side of the S-Board operator.
DOORBELL: sonorous chime deep in the System (q.v.) which sounds like
the East Campus Line bell. Last one who can be proven to
have entered the Clubroom must answer.
Aside from the running gibes about different signals that sound alike, the joke here is the ambiguous modifier -- is it the one who is last proven to have entered, or the one who is proven to have entered last?
DOORBELL TESTER: does not test doorbells.
It contained a doorbell, and was used to test electrical continuity.
DRAWER: 1) that in the Desk which holds miscellany; 2) those all over
the place that hold members' equipment.
Continuing the catalog of storage places.
A pithy but unsound definition of a mathematical term.
DURGIN-PARK: Real New England Cooking.
A long-established restaurant near Faneuil Hall in Boston. In the late 1950s it was TMRC custom to escort new freshman members there for lunch one Saturday in the fall.
EAST CAMPUS LINE: sometimes called the Outside Line (q.v.). Our only
official link with the outside world. In true TMRC style,
since it is essential, it doesn't often work. Its bell
sounds like the doorbell. Newcomers can't tell them apart.
Provides great fun to watch them panic.
More similar-sounding signals. (Since then the club made great strides in distinguishing them.)
ELI'S: price x 2-1 surplus.
A technoid way of saying half price. Eli Heffron ran an electronics-surplus store with a startling variety of equipment.
ELMIRA: 1) feminine name; 2) serviced by Mohawk Airlines.
Referring to the residence of the friend of a club member.
EMERGENCY FUND: 1) that which until June 2, 1959 was known colloquially
as the Coke Fund (q.v.); 2) that which after June 2, 1959,
gains some obscure function of the profits from the Coke
Here, q.v. is the well-known abbreviation for the Latin quod vide, "which see;" q.c.e. is the previously-unknown abbreviation for the Latin quas cocas eme, "which Cokes buy."
ENTRIPOPPITY: short for entropy, or inverse neatness. Is to be conserved
at all cost.
In a closed system, entropy (a measure of disorder) must increase. To suggest conserving it is ironic, at best.
ERGO: therefore. E.g. the System: "Cogito ergo sum."
If a machine does it, can it be called thinking?
FLUNKIE: a rideable follie: flunkie equals follie plus bunkie / 2.
A mathematical description of a portmanteau word.
FOB, or FULL OF BULL: just what the name implies, we have to give
them away. Always worth the purchase price.
The FOB was the club's internal newsletter. In railroading, the abbreviation means "Free on Board" for freight.
FOLLIE: a wheeled wooden container, too high to ride and too unstable
to stand on. Suspected etymology---"Flat dolly". See Flunkie.
If this etymology is correct, "flunkie" would be a second-order conflation.
FOO: the sacred syllable (FOO MANI PADME HUM); to be spoken only when
under inspiration to commune with the Deity. Our first
obligation is to keep the Foo Counters turning.
Use of this word at TMRC antedates my coming there. A foo counter could simply have randomly flashing lights, or could be a real counter with an obscure input.
FRESHMAN FOLLY: filling out a White Card, a Green Card, and a Salmon Card.
The TMRC freshman folly was a construction project set aside for new members. The definition refers to the official application to study at MIT.
FREUDIAN: schöner Götterfunken.
From Freud to Freude. See the entry for 9th, below.
FRIODES: reversible diodes.
A diode conducts electricity in one direction; a friode, in both directions or none. It's been fried.
FROTSI: plural of frotsus (q.v.).
The pseudo-scholarly plural.
FROTSUS: 1) a protruding arm or trunnion; 2) to tangle or confuse.
I don't know the origin of this word, but these were its meanings at TMRC in 1960.
FROWN: a fall from the official faces.
The FOB would sometimes bestow editorial smiles and frowns, to praise or criticize. Fall from face -- fall from grace.
FUNCTION OF, A: post hoc, ergo propter hoc.
An intentionally dubious definition of the technical usage meaning "dependent on."
FUSE ALARM: a buzzer which goes off indicating a fuse is blown. Do not
ignore or disconnect.
An admonition to good citizenship.
GENERAL OPERATING RULES AND QUALIFICATION PROGRAM: "Members whose duties
are prescribed by these rules must provide themselves with a
A direct quotation from the TMRC rule book.
G.P.'s: general principles.
Simply a definition; maybe the term seemed funny on its own merits.
GRONK: to cut, sever, smash, or similarly disable. Gronking parties
are held at random intervals.
GRONKERS: things which can gronk (q.v.).
The usefulness of this word is in its ambiguity: maybe cutters, maybe a hammer....
GRUNGE: 1) that which fills the Cambridge atmosphere; 2) to fill
the Cambridge atmosphere.
Airborne crud (though it may settle on things).
HACK: 1) an article or project without constructive end; 2) aork under-
taken on bad self-advice; 3) an entropy booster; 4) to produce,
or attempt to produce, a hack3.
I saw this as a term for an unconventional or unorthodox application of technology, typically deprecated for engineering reasons. There was no specific suggestion of malicious intent (or of benevolence, either). Indeed, the era of this dictionary saw some "good hacks:" using a room-sized computer to play music, for instance; or, some would say, writing the dictionary itself. ("aork" was just a typo for "work.")
HACKER: one who hacks, or makes them.
A hacker avoids the standard solution. The hack is the basic concept; the hacker is defined in terms of it.
HAIR: complication without end. Gives "hairy" or utterly deep.
Taking endless effort to disentangle.
HNO3: nitric acid.
Sometimes said humorously instead of HOn3, below.
HOBIE: a handful.
Tiny parts were measured by the heaping hobie.
HOn3: three-foot narrow gage in HO scale.
Not to be confused with HNO3, above.
HOn8: rewrite of HOn3.
I think someone at the club carelessly wrote a 3 that looked like an 8, giving me another variant to document.
HORSE-TRAIDING see Hill. Or don't see Hill.
Referring to a club member of the time. ("Traiding" was just a typo for "trading.")
I.E.: means i.e.
This defines i.e., but i.e. is used to give a definition.
KENNEL KLUB: 1 - DP (what is left after Durgin-Park).
An eating place (some say in Kendall Square, Cambridge; others say in Kenmore Square, Boston).
LOSE: to not succeed; to not win. To miss one's station.
A railroading metaphor for misunderstanding one's position in life.
LOSER: chronically succumbs to Domine non sum dignus.
Lord, I am not worthy.
M.I.T. RAILROADERS ASSOCIATION: save your souvenir locomotive wheels,
boys, the MITRRA shall rise again!
By the time of the dictionary, this organization (of railroad enthusiasts at MIT) was defunct.
MRC: the Midnight Requisitioning Committee.
Less grandiosely known as ScroungeComm.
MTA: the Metro (politan Transit Authority).
At that time, the name of the Boston transit system.
MULTIFLUSH: break-all-circuit-breakers button. Next best thing to
the red door button.
Known to later generations as the foo switch, it stopped all trains at once.
MULTISCHLUNKER: changes bei eisenbahn into marsch, und schnell!
Timing relays in the System, which would click rhythmically whenever a train was being run. The Germanic sound of "schlunker" may have prompted this definition.
MUNG: mash until no good.
David Sawyer, a club member, would make vocal sound effects; his "mung" sound represented a mechanical part vibrating. I took it to refer to one part hitting another, and concocted this anti-acronym. The term has since spread and taken on figurative meanings.
MURPHY'S LAWS: 1. If something can go wrong in a system, it will.
2. There is always something to go wrong.
3. When things go wrong, they do so in the manner
that yields the most difficulty.
In this form, Murphy's laws roughly parallel the three laws of thermodynamics.
MUSIC: TIDDLEY-POO: onomatopoeia for music of the same sound.
ZOOM-ZOOM: string quartets, quintets, etcets.
PING-PONG: harpsichord selections.
In the 1950s, when we students listened to music, it was classical music.
NODE: a point on the layout (but not on the TNP) where all unconnected
lines become infinitely connected.
This distinguishes the TNP (the railroad that the club nominally modeled, called the Tech Nickel Plate) from the layout of track that modeled it. The TNP was, in concept, a point-to-point line, but the layout contained various switches connecting points that on the TNP were far apart.
OPERATING SESSION: 12 members versus 1200 relays.
Running all the operating positions of the layout, in semblance of a full-sized railroad. The System was there to help us.
OPIUM DEN: space under the Tower.
No longer used for storage. See "NX" in the first edition.
ORIFICE: corner of Clubroom housing desk. Maximum occupancy---1-1/2 persons.
A new name for the Casbah (obvious pun on office).
OUTSIDE LINE: 1) the East Campus line; 2) an Institute Extension;
3) an outside line (e.g. UN 4- ). Attained by Acquisition B.
At the time of this dictionary, of these three definitions the club was known to have only the first, a line on the MIT dormitory phone system. If other connections existed they were secret.
PILE: a vile of which is usually referred to.
A contorted way to refer to a "vile pile."
PLATES: Once electron-tube anodes, now selenium and silicon rectifier
plates. Synonym for System DC.
Explaining the history of a local term.
PLYWOOD WOMB: the Rolling Stock Bureau2 (q.v.).
One more named storage area.
POTTY AWARD: anually disposed upon the one who took the little boy....
A duty of guides at club open houses. Is that a typo for "annually?"
PRINCIPLE OF MAXIMUM INCONVENIENCE: Murphy's Third Law (q.v.).
Well known to engineers (and modelers).
RAUNCH ALARM: a buzzer, deep in the System, which indicates that two
control boards are operating the same train. Sounds the
same as the Fuse Alarm and the BK Tower signal.
This alarm indicated that two control boards had become intimately connected.
ROLLING STOCK BUREAU: 1) an ancient name for CarComm; 2) the vertical
files under the Narrow Gage.
The word bureau moves from the figurative to the literal.
RULE G: liberation (pun).
In railroad rule books, Rule G prohibits working under the influence of alcohol. I saw a remote pun between liberation and libation.
S-BOARD: Dr. Jekyll.
The helpful side of the Dispatcher.
SCALE TIME: measured by the clock on the (south wall) D-Board. Something
designed to make the S-Board Operator think twelve times
Model railroads run on fast time so that their timetables look reasonable.
SCALPS: woven into the block forest by elves.
Daniel Whitney asked me to put in this definition of his; scalps were bundles of wire, and the block forest was the System.
SCROUNGE: 1) to search for, or find, equipment previously without a
good home; 2) to acquire; 3) one who scrounges.
A term apparently adopted from the military.
SCROUNGE CART: a battlewagon used to cart back booty.
It was a large flat cart on casters.
SEMAPHORES: wise-foolish things which move up and down.
A pun on sophomore.
SIMULTUOUSLY:(L. simul, simultuously) at the same time.
A dig at dictionaries that define things circularly.
SNB&TCo: an institution serving TMRC members for many years.
This refers to a club member who could be trusted to have (and make) change for people. See Change Machine.
STEAM TUNNEL: through these portals pass some of the most questionable
wires in the world: our East Campus Line.
Dormitory telephone wires were strung through the campus steam tunnels. They suffered in that environment.
SUBWAY: where MITCo passes under P-Yard.
As far as I can remember, this was just a straightforward definition.
SUCTION FUND: cause of the Hoover Committee. Now known as the Emergency
The Hoover Commission was a U.S. government body in the late 1940s, but the club version was to buy a vacuum cleaner.
SULFUROUS FUMES: exclusive property of the Vice-president. Seek and
ye shall find.
There was a club vice-president (really a very nice guy) who referred to his criticisms as sulfurous fumes.
SWITCH 19: that in the hall upon which we may depend.
This was a power switch in the hall that controlled some of the outlets in the clubroom.
SYSTEM, THE: unnecessary; after all, we could all make model airplanes.
An exaggeration, though the System made running trains much easier. Model airplanes were anathema in the clubroom.
S&P: source of light, though not necessarily of sweetness. Ask any
The Signals and Power Committee chairman at one time had a rather confrontational personality.
THREE-PHASE: 1) operating M2, M3 and S-Board at the same time; 2) 208-volt
AC powering the System.
When the layout and the System were working well, it was possible for one person to run two separate trains and control all the track switches at the same time.
TIMETABLE OPERATION: operating session (q.v.) for which IBM machines
join on the side of the System.
We were using an IBM 407 accounting machine at the MIT Computation Center to tabulate and print out timetables, according to which we would try to operate the TNP.
TOOL: 1) to set one's brain to the grindstone; 2) a human edge.
The meaning at MIT was to study hard, or a very diligent student (also called a grind).
TOOL SHED: machine shop (for grinding wheels).
A nonce term for a place, such as an unused classroom, to study in.
TRACK-CLEANING CAR: for sale.
Various kinds of model track-cleaning car were tried, and none worked well.
TUCKER (Prof.): our faculty advisor. The standard phrase is, "Pro-
fessor Tucker was in the Clubroom from --- to --- last ---."
His overt connection with the club was limited to approximately annual visits. Behind the scenes, he spoke for the club to the MIT administration (and helped acquire telephone switching gear).
URCHIN: chief product of Cambridge and our Nation's first line of defense.
The Club had a guest member at the time who was a Cambridge high-school student. The definition is obviously unkind and exaggerated.
WHALE: 1) a kind of sandwich; 2) a large hill, thoughtfully provided
by Nature to separate Berkmannville from Sawyer Junction.
The whale on the layout formed a visual barrier to separate two scenic areas. A sandwich shop we frequented called its largest offering a whale.
WIN: opposite of lose (q.v.).
To succeed, perhaps outstandingly.
WINNER: one or something that wins.
A generic term of approbation.
ZORCH: 1) to attack with an inverse heat sink; 2) to travel, v approaching
Another of David Sawyer's sound effects, which I reinterpreted as a colorful variant of "scorch," by this edition encompassing both meanings: applying heat, and moving fast.
0-2-0: Ingard model, Kraushaar prototype.
The 0-2-0 is a designation for a locomotive with just one pair of wheels. It uses a gyroscope to remain upright. Profs. Ingard and Kraushaar taught freshman physics, which included gyroscopes. My recollection is that this wording was offered by another member, though I do not now remember who it was.
9TH, THE: a level of communication attained most eminently by L. von
Dialing 9 on certain MIT extensions would connect to the outside world (called the 9th level by some telephone hobbyists). Beethoven's 9th Symphony also communicates, in a way.
-: (what can we say?)
This edition's "indescribable" entry, about a remarkable new club member.