What Is a Roughneck?

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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 25 May 2019
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The term roughneck is given to identify an oil field worker. Used to describe a hardworking individual, the slang name roughneck has been applied to many occupations since the early 1800s before being identified as the predominant term for oil industry workers. Given the commonly-understood grit and fortitude of the roughneck, the name has been adopted by several professional sporting teams to add a bit of the common man and hard work ethic typically associated with the oil derrick worker. When used as slang for a person or group of persons outside of the oil industry, the term is commonly directed towards the dregs of society, or troubled and violent persons as well as those commonly thought to occupy a space among the lowest levels of society.


While many oil field workers are proud to be classified as roughnecks, the term has not always been one of endearment. Stemming from the earliest meaning, the term roughneck was quite near to an insult. Placed upon traveling carnival workers and vagrants, anyone tagged with the title of roughneck was a person to be carefully watched and even avoided, if possible. Associated with the term roustabout, a roughneck was a person who performed extreme manual labor, often for little wages, and typically had no ties to the community in which he worked. Eventually, in the early to mid 1930s, the term was attached to the oil industry, where it took on an almost status symbol property and was a source of pride for many workers.

While the term given to workers on an oil rig is seen as a type of identifier and lends a level of status to the position, it is generally applied to only those skilled and unskilled workers directly involved with connecting the drilling pipe or performing other duties on the derrick floor. Workers united under the term roughneck can also be divided into smaller sub-group identifiers typically pertaining to the type of job the worker performs. Titles such as tool pusher, driller and motorman are just a few of the more descriptive titles given to those who work in the drilling towers of the oil fields.

Sports teams have adopted the title to add a sense of personality to the team in sports like professional hockey, lacrosse and soccer. Even the Rubbermaid® corporation has used the term to identify the strongest garbage bag and containers in their lineup. Originally used to identify the lowest element of society, the name is now commonly used to identify those of great strength and stature among the working class.


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Post 1

For anyone looking to become a roughneck, you may find what I have to say useful.

Look for roustabout positions; it will give you experience to move up to roughneck, and the majority of jobs are located in: Oklahoma, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Texas.

Make sure you are physically ready. You will carry 50-80 pounds frequently.

If you are working eight hours a day at your current job, see if you can work twelve. This will prepare you for the average oil field shift.

Eat protein and carbs. Drink a protein shake on whatever down time you get. Make sure to stay hydrated.

Good luck. Don't quit. Good things come to those who work hard and endure.

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