The firemen's lines are like animal sounds, void of structure or cohesiveness. This is not to ignore the fact that the firemen, in a life outside the play may communicate full sentences and ideas, but within the text the firemen are characterized like a pack of dogs. The men are reactive and easily bothered, defensive and constantly ready to put up a fight. Yank, the leader of the pack, gains respect not because he is the smartest, but because he is physically the strongest.
The repetition and mockery of Yank's language is a clear indication that the men do not respect Yank for his brainpower. When Yank tells the men to "nix on de loud noise" because he is trying to "tink" the men to repeat in unison "think!" The men purposefully point out the irony of Yank, barely able to form the word, attempting to think. In a wave of barking exclamations, the men warn Yank not to crack his head thinking, "You gat headache, py yingo! One thing about it—it rhymes with drink!" The men equate thought with physical labor and alcohol, the factors which posses and drive their lives. The chorus that erupts reinforces this, "Drink, don't think" repeated three times.
Whether by necessity or comfort physical labor and alcohol allow the men to exist within their societal niche and confines of the ship. Yank's reaction to the tenor who sings of his home and lassie is deeply offensive to Yank because it suggests thought and life beyond that of a laborer. Yank is equally offended by Paddy, who reminisces about life on a clipper ship. Yank desperately attempts to weight his existence, reverse societal structure on the basis of "belonging," a theme that is developed extensively in the play.