Monday, June 25, 2012

Old West glossary, no. 35

Here’s another set of terms gleaned from early western novels. Definitions were discovered in various online dictionaries, as well as searches in Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Dictionary of the American West, The New Encyclopedia of the American West, The Cowboy Dictionary, The Cowboy Encyclopedia, The Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from Marie Manning’s Judith of the Plains, about a mixed-race woman in a remote part of Wyoming, and A. B. Ward’s The Sage Brush Parson, about a Methodist minister in a Nevada mining camp. Once again, I struck out on a few. If anyone has a definition for “exhibit stock,” “chiny,” “blue country,” “cadunkered,” or “crazy lock,” leave a comment below.

bisque = fired, unglazed pottery; used for doll heads. “Bettine, the bisque toy, sat stiffly erect in a go-cart pushed before her.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

blam-jam = mild expletive for “damned.” “We can’t get that blam-jam handcar up to Palisade and back without somethin’ more’n four-man power.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

blow in = to spend money. “The one thought they shared in common was that of the wages that would come to them at the end of the drive; of the feverish joy of ‘blowing in,’ in a single night.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Bride of the Tomb, The = one of 80 dime novels by popular romance writer Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller (1850-1937). “The brand on this here book that effected my change of heart was The Bride of the Tomb. I forget the name of the girl in that romance, but she was in hard luck from the start.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

budge = liquor. “‘He don’t put in any “budge,”’ said an honest-faced young miner. ‘Parson wouldn’t allow it.’” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

cap sheaf = the top sheaf of a stack of grain; the crowning or finishing part of a thing. “‘Ricker’s going to say grace. This’ll put on the cap sheaf,’ his next neighbor whispered to Penrose.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

caryatid = a supporting column sculptured in the form of a draped female figure. “She proposed a bewildering choice—an inverted wash-tub, two buckets sustaining the relation of caryatides to a board, the sheet-iron cooking stove.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Clodd, Edward = an early follower of the work of Charles Darwin, and writer of books popularizing evolution (1840-1930). “There lay on the teacher’s ‘desk’ copies of Clodd’s Childhood of the World, two of that excellent series of History Primers, and The Young Geologist.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

“Cowboy’s Lament” = title of a song, also known as “Streets of Laredo.” “They tried all the old favorites, the ‘Cow-boy’s Lament’ being chief among them.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains. Listen here.

Cranford = a town in a series of novels by English author Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865). “Even now her own letters to Peter were no sprightly scrawl of passing events, but efforts whose seriousness suggested, at least in their carefully elaborated stage of structure, the letters of the ladies of Cranford.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Durham Ox, 1802
Durham = a breed of shorthorn cattle developed in 18th century England. “Mrs. Yellett, who had never heard that ‘a soft voice is an excellent thing in woman’ and whose chest-notes were not unlike those of a Durham in sustained volume of sound, made the valley of the Wind River echo with the summons of the pupils to school.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

fairy well = a small pool of water or spring into which visitors dropped pins or buttons for wishes to be granted. “Judith, going to her favorite pool to bathe, saw that it had shrunk till it seemed but a fairy well hid among the willows.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Flannel band
flannel band = a band made of flannel, worn to protect the navel-cord dressing until a baby was six weeks old. “There were infant ailments to be discussed, there were the questions of food and of teething, of paregoric and of flannel bands.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

gee = voice command to horses or oxen to go right; haw, go left. “He watched the driver gee his train with a steady pull on the rod and haw it with two swift, strong jerks.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

geeswax = a mild expletive for “Jesus.” “If ’twould ease the Parson any to talk, by geeswax, he would stand it!” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

go-cart = a stroller, baby walker. “Elsie reluctantly trundled the go-cart out of the room.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

Hannah Cook = something of little or no importance; from “hand or cook,” a nautical reference to the lowest worker on a ship. “This was the final word with Shed. When a thing beat Hannah Cook there was no more to be said.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

High Tippy Bob Royal = a very important person; a show off. “He’s a regular High Tippy Bob Royal! That’s what I told Mart Young yesterday.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

ignus fatuus = will-o’-the-wisp; a phosphorescent light that appears in marsh lands. “At the time he was following that ignis fatuus, Holy Grail, pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, which was to him his Duty.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

Kate Greenaway illustration
Indian pipe = monotropa uniflora, a flower-like white plant not requiring sunlight, growing in the understory of dense forests; also ghost plant, corpse plant. “In a niche of the wall an alabaster Piétà, brought home from Florence, slender and white and fragile as the Indian pipes that spring without warning in the black forest mold, ghosts of flowers, caught her eye.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

Kate Greenaway = English illustrator of children’s books (1846-1901) . “The flowers, a daily offering from the Barkers and Mrs. Wellman and from the Chisholm conservatories, Martha was allowed to put into empty bottles and set up around the room, like a Kate Greenaway frieze.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

laying pipe = a politician’s efforts to accomplish some particular end, frequently his own political advancement. “Dr. Elliott, who came to atone for Dr. Addison’s shortcomings, found himself a possible candidate for State senator and was usually away, ‘laying pipe,’ when he was needed.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

Original Lone Star Brewery
Lone Star = the beer; Lone Star Brewery, built in 1884, was the first large, mechanized brewery in Texas, founded by Adolphus Busch with a group of San Antonio businessmen. “Vaughan selected a vacant space between the picture of a female with floating hair and preternaturally large eyes, offering an open box of ‘Lone Star,’ and a presentment of ‘Highland Whiskies: The Best,’ and tacked up the notice.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

make a poor mouth = to complain, to slander. “‘What I like about him’ said Jack, in his customary drawl, ‘is that he don’t “make a poor mouth.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

oh my suz/dear me suz = an all-purpose phrase of emphasis or surprise. “A nightcapped head appeared in the doorway and was suddenly withdrawn, with an ‘Oh, my suz!” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

Old Gentleman = God. “I’d ’a’ sworn ye were one ’o them Prophets in the Wilderness, sent by the Old Gentleman, once in a while, to keep up our courage and show us the way out.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

orris = a kind of lace made of gold or silver. “There were her two little cambric pocket-handkerchiefs, remotely suggestive of orris, and bearing her monogram delicately wrought and characteristic.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Ox-eyed daisy
ox-eyed daisy = the loves-me-loves-me-not daisy, also called dog daisy, margarite, and moon daisy. “A bunch of prairie flowers, flaming cactus blossoms in scarlet and yellow, ox-eyed daisies, white clematis from the creek, seemed none the less decorative for the tin cup that held them.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

punk = soft, crumbly wood that has been attacked by fungus. “Think? With a brain like punk?” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

put on dog = to show off, act superior. “The acting foreman thought the Wetmore men looked down on him, ‘put on dog.’” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

scab = mange, or a similar skin disease in animals. “I hope every herd in the State dies of scab.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

scuttle = a hatchway. “There was a ladder here, leading to a scuttle in the roof.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

Southdown = a small British sheep raised chiefly for mutton. “There’s a lot of women as wouldn’t exactly regard me as a Merino, or a Southdown, either.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

stick = a shot of spirits added to a nonalcoholic beverage. “Jack had made lemonade, with a ‘stick,’ a barrelful each time, and had offered it as his donation.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

vinaigrette = a small ornamental container for holding aromatic vinegar, smelling salts, or spirits of ammonia to ward off evil smells. “She was sniffing away at her vinaigrette as she always did when she didn’t like things.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

vinegar and brown paper = a home remedy for headache. “Not a great deal, if there ain’t plenty of vinegar and brown paper handy, and I seldom had such fancy fixings in camp.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

wean = a young child. “She opened her arms to receive a violet-eyed wean brought in by a young woman of perhaps twenty.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

Image credits:
Flannel band, The New Dressmaker, 1921
All others, Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Dane Coolidge, western photographer


  1. I think they still use "bisque" to describe dolls like that. Megan had one. But the rest....pretty much gone.

  2. In that context, do you think "orris" might actually have meant orris root? I seem to remember mentions in old books of its being used in sachets and storage to perfume handkerchiefs and such.

    1. It has that meaning, too, Elisabeth. I remember it in a previous glossary with the meaning you mention.

  3. other than Poor mouth I don't remember most of these.

  4. "Laying pipe" was still used by sailors in the 50's and 60's, but it had a more sexual meaning.