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Jumping Frenchmen of Maine (wikipedia.org)
86 points by samclemens 5 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 30 comments



Interesting...I've collected and read a lot of old Maine books over the last few years, and now I'm trying to remember if any of them mentioned this sort of behavior in passing. The qualities of lumberjacks that worked deep in the Maine woods were fascinating (and surely, at times, exaggerated), and I know at least a few descendants of Northern Maine Frenchmen...perhaps I need to give them a shout (ha).

Purely speculative: but I wonder if the daily lifestyle of a lumberjack, which was largely built around routine, rhythmic work and minimized social interaction (spending months in the woods at a time), coupled with shy tendencies to begin with (lots of lumber camps were completely male and had French/English language barriers = minimal small talk with coworkers), could've resulted in those kinds of reactions. I know that for me, it's easy to fall into a "trance" while doing manual labor for hours at a time, so I'd be curious if the amount of time they spent in that trance could've dampened their...social skills? Social reaction mechanisms? I don't know. Either way, pretty interesting. I'll have to search for some more references!


I wonder if reacting instantly to a command was also a positive survival skill when large trees could fall on you. People further away could see danger that you were too close to properly notice. If you didn't instantly do what someone said then you could end up dead.


I thought about the survival aspect too. I'm a very jumpy person, especially when tired. I like to think it's due to heightened survival instincts. When I get surprised, there's often a 2-3 second period where I'm not consciously in control of my body. Usually all that happens is that I jump and take a couple quick steps the other direction before I come back into control. I have, however, found myself on the opposite side of a fence more than once and recently came around in position to vault a 5-foot tall barrier. During those few seconds, I've usually already identified who or what it was that startled me, but I'm not able to process that information or stop moving away. It's weird and a huge source of entertainment for friends, family, and coworkers.


> One theory is that it is a genetic condition ... It may also be a culture-bound syndrome or a formed habit.

Nobody's proposed the theory that the non-jumping lumberjacks just got hit by trees?


What, then, makes Maine's trees so peculiarly bloodthirsty?


I've only cut down a few trees but I've seen them bounce or fall in odd ways. I was taught to get the hell out of the way of falling trees as a kid because of this. If you cut them for a living there's endless knowledge around how to fell them safely but they are still dangerous. A large evergreen has boughs that are like massive leaf springs when they hit the ground, big trees can twist as they fall, or kick out. It's really dangerous, especially with hand tools like axe and saw.


I think the parent to your post was asking why only loggers in Maine were noted with this condition. Logging exists elsewhere in areas vastly larger than Maine, but this condition was localised to that vicinity.


Acorn Cemetary


I know a very experienced guy that got killed by a tree a few months ago. Tree didn't come down the way he expected, he went to get a rope to pull it over, and the tree came down the incorrect direction when he wasn't looking.

Yea, awareness and reflexes around trees are very necessary.


You might get jumpy too if this was your day job: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIKCjQdxtO0&t=61s


Sounds like something from Monty Python!


I'm surprised this isn't linked to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dancing_mania

Also, 'swooning'


If one jumps to the side - everyone follows, no one is waiting for 'timberrr!'

Makes sense, if you're a lumberjack


Reminded me of the fainting goats... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uT-UGTQd6zQ


There's a song titled "Jumping Frenchmen of Maine" by the instrumental post-rock band "El Ten Eleven". They're my goto coding music


I've seen them live a few times. They put on one hell of a show.


I wonder if they could conduct genetic analysis if they could identify any of the afflicted and their gravesites. Or descendants willing to participate in a genetic survey (though the gene may have since died out).

This would be interesting to understand and see if it bears causal or mechanistic relation to the similar disorders from the article.


My great great grandfather was a French lumberjack in Maine. (Great great grandmother was a cook at the camp). I’ve never heard of this problem but we do all have adhd or something like that, we tend to stare into space lost in thought and miss what people are saying and then snap back to real world and try to catch up with the conversation. This made following lectures in college very challenging. That might not be related at all though, just coincidence, after that many generations. If someone was to make a loud noise while I was deep in thought I’d probably jump too! And I guess if I think about it I do tend to repeat back things I hear a lot.


WTF. This is the second time in less than 12 hours I've learned about Echolalia (the other was on Reddit a thread of "weirdest things that happened on dates").

Very odd coincidence.



Baader-meinhof. But in this case, the HN crowd reads some of the same subreddits and one of them likely posted this here.


I also read that thread on Reddit and this and thought the same thing!


Huh! There’s a great song with this name and I always assumed it was just some randomly chosen words and not a reference to a real thing.

The song is Jumping Frenchmen of Maine by El Ten Eleven. The band is only two people, a drummer and a bassist with a loop pedal, worth watching on youtube: https://youtu.be/F-J9pXAt8Rc


I think it's considered a variation on hyperekplexia; if I recall, Marie Saint-Hilaire at BUMC did some case series and research into this.


Wouldn’t be surprised if men were in an abused situation. Far from others, social norms go out the window.

Was in a situation were saying “no” came with severe consequences.

At a certain point you mentally shut down and do what your told no matter what. Logic / morality is not part of it. Stress from it comes out in odd ways, verbal / physical ticks, etc.


The late William Burroughs mentioned similar syndrome from Malaysia, Latah, in his Naked Lunch. It was weirdly obsessive (not that the book is easy reading by any means - it must be very hard to translate).

I wonder if he saw a real Latah in a real world, or just read about them and his brain digested that knowledge together with some drugs.


This is fascinating. My first reaction is a Tourette's theory but then I start to consider possible PTSD and other elements.

There's so much potential if another community like this could be found.


This is the name for my next band.


He's a lumberjack, and he's all right


He's like a spring that's wound up tight.




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