Monday, November 19, 2012

Old West glossary, no. 50


Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of terms and forgotten people gleaned from early western fiction. 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, Vocabulario Vaquero, I Hear America Talking, Cowboy Lingo, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from Martin Allerdale Grainger’s Woodsmen of the West, about loggers in British Columbia, Charles G. D. Roberts’ The Backwoodsmen, a collection of frontier animal stories, and Ada Woodruff Anderson’s The Heart of the Red Firs, about settlers in the backwoods around Puget Sound. Once again, I struck out on a few. If anyone has a definition for “prince-pally cake,” leave a comment below.


U.S. Navy bluejackets, 1917
bluejacket = a sailor in the navy. “Dan Macdonnell was a quiet, steady man; big-chested, active, cheerful, like the better sort of bluejacket.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

catkins = a usually dense, cylindrical, often drooping cluster of flowers found in willows, birches, and oaks. “Soft, wet and tender, with a faint green filming the sodden pasture field, and a rose-pink veil covering the maples, and blue-grey catkins tinting the dark alders, spring had come.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

Catkins
chevaux-de-frise = an obstacle composed of barbed wire or spikes attached to a wood frame, used to block enemy advancement. “Door and bridge together were encircled by a chevaux-de-frise of woodwork with sharp, radiating points of heavy telegraph wire.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

curate’s egg = something with good and bad qualities. “Sometimes I wish she had been less of a jest, less like the curate’s egg.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West. Explanation of the term at Wikipedia

Chevaux de frise, 1864
dead-water = a phenomenon that can occur when a layer of fresh or brackish water rests on top of denser salt water, without the two layers mixing. “The last mile of the river’s course before joining the lake consisted of deep, smooth ‘dead-water’.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

draw the longbow = to exaggerate, tell tall tales. “I hate to tell you all about the Sonora, because she was so humorous, and you will think I am piling it on, drawing the long-bow.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

fire rake = a long-handled combination rake and cutting tool, the blade of which is usually constructed of a single row of four sharpened teeth. “Then there would be a noise of fire-rake, and Bill could be heard hurling wood into the furnace.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

garden sass = vegetables, particularly those used in making sauces. “Its only garden was a spacious patch of cabbages and ‘garden sass’ three or four hundred yards down toward the edge of the forest.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

horrors, the = delirium tremens. “I had to give him a dose or two of bromide, as he was getting shaky, from much whisky, and I feared the horrors might come.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

in high feather = in good spirits. “The tireless little animal followed him along the fence rails for perhaps a hundred yards, seeing him off the premises and advising him not to return, then went back in high feather to his task.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

larrigan = a moccasin with knee-high leggings made of oiled leather. “He arose, recovered the thongs of his larrigans from the futile snare, and made his way back on the trail as fast as he could flounder.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

Marie Corelli
Master Christian, The = a novel by popular English writer, Marie Corelli (1855-1924), published in 1900. “The humour of a Sunday paper, Ouida, “The Duchess,” “The Master Christian,” Science Jottings, the Nineteenth Century would carry Bill, all equally, into some weird fairyland.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

nawitka = Chinook word for yes, indeed, for sure. “Nawitka, I come straight ’way home.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

“Old Settler, The” = a folk song originating in the Northwest of the U.S., written by Francis D. Henry, c1874; also called “Acres of Clams.” “‘Oh, let him erlone,’ said Mill Thornton, lifting his tankard and including the company with a bland smile. ‘He’s goin’ ter sing their Ole Settler fur us.’” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs. Listen here.

oolican = eulachon, an ocean fish found along the Pacific coast of North America from northern California to Alaska; also hooligan, ooligan, or candlefish. “Oolicans are, like smelts, very good eating, in my opinion.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

Palouse hills, Washington
Palouse = a hilly grassland region in eastern Washington and central Idaho. “I am starting on a long hunting and trading trip, through the Palouse and Big Bend country.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

pot hunter = one who hunts game for food, ignoring the rules of sport. “The mallard pair had few enemies to dread, their island being so far from shore that no four-footed marauder, not even the semi-amphibious mink himself, ever visited it. And the region was one too remote for the visits of the pot-hunter.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

prunes and prisms = affected, primly precise, or priggish speech or behavior. “An’ the boys can’t be expected to go a-tiptoe and talk prunes an’ prisms, all along o’ a little yaller-haired kid what’s come to brighten up the old camp fer us.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

rampike = a standing dead tree or tree stump, especially one killed by fire. “He pressed briskly but warily along the ridge, availing himself of the shelter of every rampike in his path.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

ribbon grass = a grass that has leaf blades striped with white. “Mose, who had caught these fish, lounged on a couch that, built of shakes, extended along three sides of the room, and was furnished with woven mats of ribbon grass.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

rising = insurrection, rebellion, uprising. “I would have been all right if the boys hadn’t entertained me with stories of the rising, but they were dreadful to hear.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

Salal
salal = a small evergreen shrub of the heath family found on the Pacific coast of North America and bearing edible grape-sized dark purple berries. “At that moment, Colonel, pushing through a tangle of salal, stumbled to his knees.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

salmon twine = a strong linen or cotton twine used in the manufacture of salmon nets. “There was nothing for him to do but to stop long enough to make a good job of it, which he did by chopping out a piece of ash, whittling down a couple of thin but tough strips, and splicing the break securely with the strong ‘salmon twine’ that he always carried.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

Science Jottings = generic term for scientific information of general interest to be found in newspapers and other periodicals. “The humour of a Sunday paper, Ouida, “The Duchess,” “The Master Christian,” Science Jottings, the Nineteenth Century would carry Bill, all equally, into some weird fairyland.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

shank = to walk. “I started one mornin’ to shank it, for a country they call Puget Sound.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

shike-poke = a term of insult, believed to refer to the bittern (a species of heron) that defecates when frightened. “‘Yes! the poor old shike-poke!’ answered Johnson, without looking up from his task.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

Hardtack
ship’s biscuit = hardtack, a simple type of cracker or biscuit, made from flour, water, and sometimes salt, inexpensive and long-lasting. “Syrup and ship’s biscuits and corn-meal porridge were good enough.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

slope = to move in a leisurely manner, amble. “Next day Oregon sloped into the office, asked for his time, was paid off.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

snake = to drag with a rope or chain. “He plunged headlong, striking his head on a link of heavy ‘snaking’ chain.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

Loggers on springboards
springboard =  a platform fixed to the side of a tree used by a lumberjack to stand on when working at some height from the ground. “He watched them pulling the great long falling-saw to and fro, to and fro, as they stood, high in air, on narrow springboards projecting from the tree.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

topknot = a crest or knot of hair or feathers on the crown of the head. “Theyve et up the white top-knot hen, with the whole settin’ of eggs, that was to hev’ hatched out next Monday.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

touch-me-not = a person who does not allow or invite touching. “He waited a moment, watching her in mingled amusement and pique. ‘Another touch-me-not,’ he told himself.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

tyee = Chinook word for chief or boss. “At the end of his captivity he had found himself poor and forgotten and another tyee raised in his place.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

Robert Louis Stevenson
wapato = an aquatic plant producing edible tubers used as food by North American Indians. “Across the open he saw his wife at the camp-fire, preparing her dish of wapato.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

wheeze = a trick or dodge frequently used. “Throwing the blame of poor meals upon the cook is an old wheeze of the mean boss.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

Wrecker, The = an adventure novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, published in 1892. “Science Jottings, The Nineteenth Century would carry Bill, all equally, into some weird fairyland. ‘The Wrecker’ held him spell-bound too.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.


Image credits:
Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: The Young Land (1959)

11 comments:

  1. I knew about chevaux-de-frise from my Civil War writing, but curate's egg? That's a new one! I wonder where that term came from? It's not nice to say bad things about the curate, after all.

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  2. There's an explanation of "curate's egg" at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curate's_egg

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    1. Aha! Thanks. I'm not a big fan of Wikipedia, but for trivia like this it's useful. It's also great for Creative Commons images. I used to teach at a community college and my students relied on Wikipedia way too much, with mistakes there being repeated in term papers.

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    2. When I taught, I wouldn't accept it as a legitimate source for academic research.

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  3. Lana uses Catkins and I've picked it from her. In the same meaning. Topknot I've heard.

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  4. I just like the sound of "oolican." Now it's got me wondering about the origin of the word hooligan. Similar sounding, similar roots?

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    1. I think not. The spelling above is a variant of eulachon. My Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology says the origin of hooligan is unknown. Possibly from the Irish surname Hooligan, which figured in a music hall song of the 1890s.

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  5. Just used a variant of "in high feather" the other day walking my dog = "in fine feather" is how I always heard it.

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    Replies
    1. Fine feather is familiar to me, too. Though I think I'd give it a different meaning.

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