Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Old West glossary, no. 65

Here’s another set of forgotten and obsolete terms 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 Cowboy Dictionary, The Cowboy Encyclopedia, Cowboy Lingo, The Dictionary of Victorian Slang, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from Jack London’s A Daughter of the Snows, Arthur Stringer’s The Prairie Wife, Frank Norris’ McTeague, and Robert W. Service’s The Spell of the Yukon. Some I could not track down are at the bottom of the page.

back channel = the smaller of two channels in a river that diverge to form an island. “The next island below Split-up was known as Roubeau’s Island, and was separated from the former by a narrow back channel.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

Chatelaine and attachments
bean = a foolish, silly notion. “What’s the matter with you these days, Mac? You got a bean about somethun, hey? Spit ut out.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

bilge = the lowest internal portion of a ship’s or boat’s hull. “An old sailboat lay canted on her bilge.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

chatelaine = a pendent hooked to a housekeeper's belt with short chains for attaching keys, watches, sewing items, scissors, note pads, pencils, button hooks, and other household items. “Marcus Schouler—after impressing upon Trina that his gift was to her, and not to McTeague—had sent a chatelaine watch of German silver.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

chuck tender = in mining, a workman who replaces drills in the drilling machines. “When ken you go to work? I want a chuck-tender on der night-shift.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
“Coral Ring, The” = a temperance story for women published in 1843 by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896). “This isn’t a twenty-part letter, my dear, and it isn’t a diary. It’s the coral ring I’m cutting my teeth of desolation on.” Arthur Stringer, The Prairie Wife.

Cousin Jack = a Cornishman. “The other seemed unsatisfied. ‘Are you a “cousin Jack”?’ The dentist grinned. This prejudice against Cornishmen he remembered too.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

Crème Yvette = a very sweet violet-flavored liqueur. “At the bar Heise and Ryer ordered cocktails, Marcus called for a ‘crème Yvette’ in order to astonish the others.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

dished = shaped like a dish or a pan, concave. “Under its lee lay an abandoned gravel wagon with dished wheels.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

druggeting = a heavy felted fabric of wool or wool and cotton, used as a floor covering. “Already the lights were being extinguished and the ushers spreading druggeting over the upholstered seats.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

duck = a fellow, a person. “I promised a duck up here on the avenue I’d call for his dog at four this afternoon.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

fash = to vex, annoy, bother, trouble. “‘Who’s afeared?’ Frona laughed. ‘Weel,’ he deliberated, ‘I was a bit fashed.’” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

fell = of terrible evil or ferocity; deadly. “A lone wolf howls his ancient rune—The fell arch-spirit of the Wild.” Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon.

Sparrow with quill feathers
flag = a quill feather of a bird’s wing. “Say, ain’t he a bird? Look at his flag; it’s perfect; and see how he carries his tail on a line with his back.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

flossy = excessively showy. “Minnie, you devil, I’ll kill you if you skip with that flossy sport.” Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon.

Man wearing gaiters, 1901
gaiters = a shoe or overshoe extending to the ankle or above. “‘What’s the matter with these old shoes?’ she exclaimed, turning about with a pair of half-worn silk gaiters in her hand.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

gibbous = a lunar phase between half and full moon. “A year has gone and the moon is bright, A gibbous moon, like a ghost of woe.” Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon.

gomme / gum = a sugar syrup with gum arabic as an emulsifier used in many classic cocktails. “You’ll get your death-a-cold if you stand round soaked like that. Two whiskey and gum, Joe.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

Gibbous moon
Gorham Silver = a manufacturer of sterling and silverplate, founded in Providence, Rhode Island in 1831. “This evening she went so far as to make tea for two, laying an extra place on the other side of her little tea-table, setting out a cup and saucer and one of the Gorham silver spoons.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

grayling = a silvery-gray fresh water fish with horizontal violet stripes and a long, high dorsal fin. “The grayling aleap in the river, The bighorn asleep on the hill.” Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon.

Arctic grayling
hit the ties = to walk along the railway tracks. “It lies with thee—the choice is thine, is thine, To hit the ties or drive thy auto-car.” Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon.

Kiralfy = a ballet company in San Francisco. “The former occupant had papered the walls with newspapers and had pasted up figures cut out from the posters of some Kiralfy ballet, very gaudy.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

lightning artist = an artist-entertainer who sketches subjects very rapidly. “A lightning artist appeared, drawing caricatures and portraits with incredible swiftness.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

Mastiff = a plug cut tobacco sold by the J. B. Pace Tobacco Company of Richmond, Virginia. “Trina had made him come down to ‘Mastiff,’ a five-cent tobacco with which he was once contented, but now abhorred.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

monopole = the French term for a vineyard that is wholly owned by one person or company. “‘I really think it’s champagne,’ said Old Grannis in a whisper. So it was. A full case of Monopole.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

mulct = to swindle. “He turned to a Peterborough, for which McPherson had just mulcted him of thrice its value.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

neck and crop = completely and violently. “Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming, And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop.” Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon.

nip = of ice, to squeeze or crush the sides of a vessel. “La Bijou skirted a pivoting floe, darted into a nipping channel, and shot out into the open with the walls grinding together behind.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

pinchbeck = an alloy of copper and zinc resembling gold, used in watchmaking and costume jewelry. “Then he got together his small belongings—an old campaign hat, a pair of boots, a tin of tobacco, and a pinchbeck bracelet which he had found one Sunday in the Park.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

Piquet deck
piquet = a trick-taking card game for two players, using a 32-card deck consisting of cards from seven to the ace. “He never joined any of the groups of piquet players around the tables.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

pony = a small drinking glass, or the liquid contained in it. “As often as he had a moment to spare he went down the street to the nearest saloon and drank a pony of whiskey.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

Queen Charlotte = a wine cooler made of claret or burgundy, raspberry syrup, lime or lemon juice, and lemon soda. “Mrs. Sieppe and Trina had Queen Charlottes, McTeague drank a glass of beer, Owgooste ate the orange and one of the bananas.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

rep = a fabric with a ribbed surface used in curtains and upholstery. “It represented Trina, her veil thrown back, sitting very straight in a rep armchair.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

rush = to court. “Marcus had ‘taken up with’ Selina a little after Trina had married, and had been ‘rushing’ her ever since.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

school = a group of gamblers. “Play up, School, and play the game.” Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon.

skirt dance = a ballet dance popular in the 19th century distinguished by the dancer’s manipulations of her long flowing and varicolored skirts or drapery. “This was to be followed by ‘The Lamont Sisters, Winnie and Violet, serio-comiques and skirt dancers.’” Frank Norris, McTeague.

slush lamp = a crude lamp burning tallow, grease, or fats obtained from boiling meat. “The slush lamp was burning low, and I saw Bella at the door.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

sponge gold = a noncohesive form of pure gold, used for dental restoration. “McTeague turned to her suddenly, his mallet in one hand, his pliers holding a pellet of sponge-gold in the other.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

spread misere = a card game in which the bidder plays with all his cards exposed. “‘I guess I’ll make it a spread misere,’ said Dangerous Dan McGrew.” Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon.

surah = a soft twilled silk fabric used for dressmaking, ties, and furnishings. “McTeague wore a black surah negligé shirt without a cravat.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

swing man = hand brake operator. “This little army of workers, tramping steadily in one direction, met and mingled with other toilers of a different description—conductors and ‘swing men’ of the cable company going on duty.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

Tillie-on-the-spot = a reliable person. “When I was in trouble you were always the staff on which I leaned, the calm-eyed Tillie-on-the-spot who never seemed to fail me!” Arthur Stringer, The Prairie Wife.

wash-up = the washing of a collected quantity of ore. “Goin’ out? Not this year, I guess. Wash-up’s comin’.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

white friendship = comradeship. “‘Do you believe in a white friendship?’ she asked at last. ‘For I do hope that such a bond may hold us always.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

Yale Mixture = a smoking tobacco sold by Marburg Brothers of Baltimore, Maryland. “He preferred Yale Mixture in his pipe.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

The rest more or less stumped me. Anyone with an idea, please feel free to comment below.

break salt = “He broke salt with this man, John Borg, and lay in his blankets while murder was done.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

caked in = “I was all caked in on a dance-hall jade, but she shook me in the end.” Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon.

Dixonite = “Give up? Not on your life, Mister Dour Man! We’re not going to be Dixonites! We’re going to win out!” Arthur Stringer, The Prairie Wife.

fitchered = “From time to time he rapped the drill with a pole-pick when it stuck fast or fitchered.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

This is the last Old West glossary for a while. BITS is going on a two-month hiatus starting next week. Back in August.

Image credits:
Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Robert W. Service, The Trail of '98 (1910)


  1. I think I learned that meaning of "Fell" from fantasy. A Fell specter perhaps. SOmething like that.

  2. It's really not an "old west" word. I think of it as a poetic term, and in fact it turned up for me in a poem by Service. I included it in today's list because I didn't know the meaning myself.

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  4. would quibble about the coral ring reference; in the days before hard plastic, baby's rattles and teething rings were often made of coral.

    And I think the "Play up, School" comes from a popular Victorian poem of the sun-never-sets-on-the-Empah! school. I could google it but it goes something like, when the Gatling's jammed, and the Colonel's dead, and the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks "Play up! Play up! and play the game."

    Could be Kipling.

    Break salt? A mutilation of the traditional "I have eaten your bread and your salt" maybe? Kipling again.

    1. Both these sound like good possibilities. I did not know about coral teething rings. And the Kipling reference is likely. I'll give it a google myself.

      From context, breaking salt seems likely to mean "break bread," but I could not find the term in any references. Thanks, Shay.