Only a Coal Miner Will Know the Meaning of All These Words


By: John Miller

5 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it. Along with oil and natural gas, coal is one of the most energy-packed sources of fuel in the world, keeping power plants running at high speed. In this black-smeared quiz, you'll get to demonstrate how much you really know about coal mining terms.

Coal mining laborers and their supervisors have an extensive list of terms -- official and otherwise -- that they use to share information on the job. Who else would really know about "pillar robbing" and "roof fall"? How about "secondary roof" and "shortwall"? 

Take the manway to the drift mouth and see if there are any issues with the air course! Otherwise, there might be heck to pay with MSHA. And while you're up there, check out the nip and the jackleg that malfunctioned yesterday. Do you know what any of these sentences really mean in the coal mining world?

Let's find out about your stripping ratio from your tail section. Dig in the undercut of this fascinating coal mining term quiz now!

What does it mean if you're "running coal"?

It's a basic industry term. If you're "running coal," you're simply coal mining.


What's a term for a place where mining is actively occurring?

The working face is the place were miners are scrambling for their precious prize. It's were the activity reaches a frenzied pace.


What word would describe a structure where miners find a lot of ore?

It's the best thing mine owers can hear -- the news of a particularly large vein of coal ore. Those veins are the lifeblood of the mine.


Particularly rich ore is called _____ ore.

In coal mining, not all ore is the same. Really rich, high-value ore is called high-grade ore … and it's the stuff that can make mine executives rich.


In a mine, it's not really a ceiling. Instead, miners call it the ______.

In a mine, it's not really a ceiling. Instead, miners call it the "roof."


What's another word for the ceiling in a coal mine?

When you're underground, you call the ceiling (or the roof) the "back." Hopefully the back will never come crashing down on your head.


What's a term for an entryway to an underground mine?

An adit is the entrance to an underground mine. In most cases, it refers to entryways that are horizontal, often located at the lowest possible level on a hill to make ore extraction easier.


What's "muck"?

In a coal mine, rocks are "muck." You have to get the muck out of the way in order to get to the good stuff.


What's a word for a coal mine's tunnels?

The "drift" is the coal mine's tunnels. In some large mines, the drift runs on for miles and miles underground.


What's the machine that drills the face?

The jumbo is the machine that drills into the working face. Without the jumbo, the drift wouldn't extend very far.


What's the "bench"?

In a mine, it's not called a "floor." Any flood (or just the ground) in a mine is the "bench."


What's the name for a machine that breaks rocks down into smaller sizes?

Crushers are big, powerful machines that literally break rocks from the mine into smaller pieces. They help miners extract as much valuable ore from the rock as possible.


What's one term for an open pit mine?

Glory holes are open pit mines, ones that use gravity to drop ore through vertical raises. The raises intersect with a horizontal passageway that leads back to the surface, so it works best on big hillsides.


What's the stuff that's left over after coal has been extracted from minerals?

Tailings are the leftovers. They're the minerals and rock that have no economic value compared to the coal ore.


What's the purpose of a "raise"?

A "raise" is a vertical drift, or tunnel. In most coal mines, a raise is used to provide ventilation for the drift far underground.


How do mine executive's feel about "binder"?

Binder refers to impurities within a seam of coal. As such, the bosses don't like it much because it doesn't make them any money.


What does is mean if someone is "saving the mine"?

"Old Harry's down there 'saving the mine.'" That guy is way too serious about the job … and himself.


What's the term for waste rock that's often used to support the roof of a coal mine?

After the coal is extracted, miners are often left with leftover waste rock. They can use that stuff as backfill to keep the mine's roof from collapsing.


What's another name for an open-pit mine?

Open-pit mines are often called open-cast or open-cut mines. They're the mines that often draw the ire of environmentalists who say these mines are much harder to reclaim once closed.


In the old days, what did it mean if you "broke your pick"?

In the hardship and agony of early mining, it was easy to become downcast. If you "broke your pick," you were exasperated because of your exhaustion or lack of success.


An airway is also called _____.

Airways are obviously critical for ventilation in a mine. They're also called "air courses."


What would you call the side walls of a drift?

Every part of a coal mine tunnel has unique terms. The "ribs" are the side walls of a tunnel, or drift.


What's one word for the worthless minerals often found in ore deposits?

Miners work hard all day to get at precious ore. But gangue -- worthless minerals -- are often part of the job's exasperation.


A mucker is basically a _____.

Muckers are vital mining equipment. Muckers, or scoops, are the the big bulldozers that get the muck (rock) out of the way.


What's an old term for someone who slacks off while everyone else works very hard?

In the olden days, "cacklers" were deserving of derision. They were the guys who picked their noses while everyone else was getting their hands dirty.


What's a type of percussion drill used in mining?

A "jackleg" is a type of percussion drill used to access ore. It's one of the most common tools you'll find at a mine.


What's "bootleg"?

Sometimes when blasting the working face, there are leftover explosives. These are called "bootleg."


What is "metallurgical" coal often used to make?

The "metal" prefix is the giveaway. Metallurgical coal is used to make steel, and as such, it's a valuable commodity.


What's a term for the tunnel where all of the waste rock is stored?

In certain parts of the mine, the ore is tapped out. So miners stuff the "gob" with waste rock and forget about it.


What's "deadwork"?

"Deadwork" is all of the energy expended just to get access to precious ore. "Productive work" is the work that actually brings the valuable stuff back out for processing.


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