Saturday, August 10, 2013

Old West glossary of strong drink

Hazen, Nevada, 1905
Alcohol, drinking, and the effects of both are subjects that show up regularly in frontier fiction from the turn of the last century. Here, gleaned from a number of novels, is a selection of time worn and mostly obsolete terms related to imbibing and inebriation.

aguardiente = generic name for alcoholic drinks between 29 and 60 percent alcohol; literally, burning water. “Riots of mounted men in the days when the desperadoes of the range came riding into town now and again for love of danger, or for lack of aguardiente.” Emerson Hough, Heart’s Desire.

Allston cocktail = a very strong, somewhat bitter drink made with gin, peppermint schnapps, and lemon juice. “At the club I found the governor teaching Ogden a Cheyenne specialty—a particular drink, the Allston cocktail.” Owen Wister, Lin McLean.

B&S = brandy and soda. “Let's go somewhere for a B & S, and find out about each other.” Stewart Edward White, Arizona Nights.

bar towel = a complimentary towel hanging from the bar in a saloon to wipe the foam from patrons' mustaches. “‘Cupid’s drunk,’ says Monkey Mike. ‘Somebody’s hit him with a bar-towel.’” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

barb wire = strong whiskey or brandy. “They’d ask him why he didn’t send to papa for a check / So he could purchase barb wire booze to lubricate his neck.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

beer jerker = a drunkard. “You-all kin gamble yer alce all bets would be off with them painted dancehall beer jerkers.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

blue blotter = one who drinks heavily. “But when a man’s making a blue blotter of himself, things don’t look the same to him.” William MacLeod Raine, Brand Blotters.

bluestone = the very lowest quality gin or whisky. “I’ve know’d you fer awhiles, an’ I tell you right here, Boyle, you’re runin’ a fine career with that same bluestone swill Moe dopes out fer whiskey.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Sheriff of Dyke Hole.

A Good Drop, J-N Sylvestre (1847-1926)
booze clerk = bartender. “He congratulated himself that he had filled his pocket from the booze-clerk’s sugar-bowl before the mix came.” Caroline Lockhart, Me—Smith.

bousy = intoxicated, drunk. “The first thing he knew being landed on his back before his bousy finger could press the trigger.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

bracer = an alcoholic drink intended to prepare one for something difficult or unpleasant. “The expert took a bracer and a Havana, and soon someone proposed a game of whist.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

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.

budgy = drunk. “When pestered by some ‘Budgy guy’ / You’d almost read it in their eye.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

bug juice = illicitly distilled whiskey. “The jug of ‘bug juice,’ as he called it, Whipsaw had kept constantly just inside the open door of the cabin.” Cy Warman, Frontier Stories.

carry a load = to be intoxicated, drunk. “You’re actin’ locoed. Guess you’re carryin’ your load yet.” Henry Herbert Knibbs, Overland Red.

corn juice = whiskey. “You’ll find lots uv pore corn-juice, canned goods, ig’nance, and side-meat.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

crack a bottle = have a drink. “He could play two deuces pat at bluff, / Could ‘crack a bottle,’ or ‘blow his stuff.’” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

The Jersey Lilly, Langtry, Texas
deadfall = a rough saloon. “Beware the pine tree’s withered branch, / Beware a ‘deadfall’, called Chalk Ranch.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

disturbance promoter = whiskey. “We’ll all have a jolt of this disturbance promoter, an’ call it off.” Rex Beach, Pardners.

drappie = intoxicating drink. “Haven’t got a wee bit drappie, have you?” Samuel Merwin, The Road-Builders.

dust cutter = an alcoholic drink. “The ball’s about to open. Pardners for a waltz. Have a dust-cutter, Mac, before she grows warm.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

forty drops = alcohol (40 drops equal ½ teaspoon); “Forty Drops,” a popular 1890s rag tune. “We’re all in the Red Light takin’ our forty drops, an’ Sam Enright brings up this yere Wilkins.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

forty rod = cheap, strong whiskey, said to be strong enough to kill at a distance of forty rods (11 miles), or to give the drinker strength to run full-speed at that distance, or to permit a drinker to walk no far than that distance. “An average twenty-wagon outfit, first and last, would bring him in somewheres about fifty dollars—and besides he had forty-rod at four bits a glass.” Stewart Edward White, Arizona Nights.

fusel oil = alcohol formed by fermentation and present to varying degrees in cider, beer, wine, and spirits. “Gumboot Sal, who peddled fusel oil from the rear of her travoy loaded with a piano swathed in red blankets.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

Oysters and champagne
gold cure = treatment of alcoholism consisting of hypodermic injections of strychnine and atropine, the solution being gold in color; also “jag cure.” “I took my friend Major Hampton’s advice, availed myself of the gold cure at his expense, an’ by the great horn spoon, I’ll never drink nary another drop.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

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.

grease one’s holler = to have a drink. “I ast him to come over and have one with me. He said O.K., that suited him. So we greased our hollers a few times.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

half-seas over = drunk, intoxicated, inebriated. “Tryon came down a few minutes ago, considerably more than half-seas over, and said he was ready to take his engine and the first section of the east-bound midnight – which would have been his regular run.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

heeltap = the liquor left at the bottom of the glass. “Day after day, each man of us poured out on the trail the last heel-tap of his strength.” Robert W. Service, The Trail of ’98.

high wine = a distillate containing a high percentage of alcohol. “His poor stomach kept trying to crawl out of his body in its desperate strife to escape Wilmore’s decoction of high-wine.” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.

Holland gin = the juniper-flavored and strongly alcoholic traditional liquor of the Netherlands, from which gin evolved; also call Geneva gin and Dutch gin. “Our outside passenger would, in the next three days, get more color in his face and nose from the angry elements than he could get from a whole barrel of Holland gin.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

hooker = a drink. “Thar’s nothin’ for it but to give him another hooker, which we does accordin’.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

Wine Drinker in Barrel Cellar
horn = a drink. “Then he, too, struggled to his feet, and, with unsteady hand, poured out two stiff ‘horns’ of whisky.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

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.

Hot Scotch = a drink made of butterscotch schnapps and hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. “Because he liked the smell and had not thought of the mixture for a number of years, Lin took Hot Scotch.” Owen Wister, Lin McLean.

irrigate = drink, take a drink. “Come over ’n’ let’s irrigate.” Charles Lummis, A Tramp Across the Continent.

jig juice = alcohol, spirits, whisky. “He pikes over to call on the mayor, and sets up the jig-juice to him, pours flattering words in his ears.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

jimjams = delirium tremens. “Rattlesnake Valley, over yonder, ain't never been good for much exceptin' the finest breed of serpents an' horn-toads a man ever see outside a circus or the jimjams.” Jackson Gregory, Under Handicap.

joram = large drinking bowl, large amount. “He poured out a joram of hot whisky for each of the men.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

katzenjammer = a hangover. “Woke up next day with a katzenjammer.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

Keeley Institute = a commercial medical operation that offered treatment to alcoholics, wildly popular in the late 1890s. “She, the first wife, sent for him, put him into a Keeley Institute, paid the expenses of his divorce proceedings against wife number two, remarried, him, and was caring for him.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

liquidate = to drink. “We passed into the bar and liquidated.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

Original Lone Star Brewery, San Antonio, Texas
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.

long sleever = large drinking glass. “‘We’re having lively times, John,’ said the doctor, after emptying his ‘long sleever.’” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

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.

No. 9 = Irish whiskey. “‘A little number nine, Billy. Here’s a ho!’ He set his glass down, and faced Cross.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

noggin = a small drinking vessel, a mug. “They had fought and marched together, spilled many a noggin in each other’s honor, and who drew the other’s monthly pay depended on the paste-boards.” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.

The Drinker
nose paint = whiskey. “The Yallerhouse gent tracks along into the Red Light, an’ tells the barkeep to set out the nose paint.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville. [Thanks, Shay.]

oh-be-joyful = liquor. “He paid two bits at the last tavern for his finger of the oh-be-joyful.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

Old McBrayer = Kentucky sour mash whiskey, originated by William Harrison McBrayer in the 1840s. “After each had filled his glass with ‘Old Mcbrayer Booze,’ / We drank to wives and children and those little busted shoes.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

Old Taylor = a bourbon whiskey produced in Frankfort, Kentucky, and named in honor of Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. (1830-1923). “There’s a bottle of ‘Old Taylor’ in the other room; you’d better take a drop.” Pauline Wilson Worth, Death Valley Slim and Other Stories.

on the water wagon = abstaining from alcoholic beverages. “Only one thing remained—that was to quit—get on the water wagon.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

ordinary = public house, tavern, restaurant. “We meet in the ordinary at the Camelot. You’ll be there?” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

pain killer = spirits. “When he gets to fightin’ the pain-killer, he ain’t altogether a gentleman.” Rex Beach, Pardners.

pistol = whiskey bottle. “‘Gimme a pull at yer pistol, wont ye?” G. Frank Lydston, Poker Jim, Gentleman.

Pommery Sec = a French champagne introduced to America in 1872 by a New York City wine importer, Charles Graef. “From each bottle knock the neck, / Fill each glass with Pommery Sec.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

Scene from Ten Nights in a Barroom
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.

red-eye = strong, poor quality whisky. “Billy Dime might make it if he didn’t get too much red-eye in him first.” Henry Herbert Knibbs, Overland Red.

rock and rye = a bottled drink made with rye whiskey, rock candy, and fruit. “Len, loosening his nimble tongue with rock-and-rye, read their histories from feature and get-up, satirizing each with a playful cynicism.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

sample room = a bar-room, a place where liquor is sold by the glass. “Next day, the Judge, he give consultin’s in the eatin’-house sample-room.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

sangaree = a cold drink of diluted and spiced wine. “Mary could never remember when the need of money to pay the mortgage had not invaded the gentle routine of their home-life, robbing the sangaree of its delicate flavor in the long, sleepy summer afternoons.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

seidel = a beer mug or glass. “Sitting at a table, he ordered a seidel of beer, as the white-robed female orchestra struck up on their dais under artificial palms.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

sherry cobbler = a popular drink in the nineteenth century made of sherry, sugar, and lemon or orange wedges served over ice. “Noel laughingly ordered a sherry-cobbler, saying the day was far too hot for anything stronger.” Charles King, Two Soldiers.

Silenus and friend
Silenus = in mythology, the oldest, wisest, and most drunken follower of Dionysus. “He was accomplishing absolutely nothing by continuing the struggle, nothing more than a woman yoked to a Silenus hoping to reform him when he daily grew worse under her eyes.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.

seidlitz powder = a medication made by mixing powders of sodium potassium tartrate, sodium bicarbonate, and tartaric acid, used for its laxative effect or to treat hangovers. “Him and me seen the elephant and the owl, and we had specimens of this seidlitz powder wine.” O. Henry, The Heart of the West.

snakes = alcoholic hallucinations, delirium tremens. “His groping brain grasped at the idea, and it gave him strength—better the ‘snakes’ than that!” James Hendryx, The Promise.

soused to the guards = very drunk. “‘Soused to the guards,’ he sneered, ‘an’ me with ten years scairt offen my life fer fear I’d wake him.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

spiflicated = drunk. “He got spiflicated, built a roarin’ fire in the old stove—an’ there y’are, plain as daylight.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

squiffy = drunk. “‘What was eatin’ Scar Faced Charlie, anyway?’ ‘He’s squiffy.’” Alice Harriman, A Man of Two Countries.

stagger juice = spirits. “I got him to sing it three times, him being that full of song and stagger-juice.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

Still Life with Wine Bottle, c1904
steam beer = a highly effervescent, traditional-style ale that was brewed in the goldfields of California. “I got so blame disgusted drinkin’ steam beer through a straw that if anyone would ’a’ dared me I’d ’a’ signed the pledge.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

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.

stirrup cup = a last drink before leaving. “They would ordinarily have found some of the outfit, perhaps have played stud poker an hour or two, taken a stirrup cup and departed.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West.

swipe = poor quality beer; a drink consumed in a single gulp. “Don’t pour no more of More’s swipes into these fellers’ sinks, or they’ll get logged right up to their back teeth till they don’t know Tuesday from rye whiskey.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Sheriff of Dyke Hole.

syllabub = a drink made of milk mixed with wine, cider,  or rum, sweetened, spiced, and served warm (also sillabub). “Mrs. Crouch, with Mrs. Wyatt, and the Mrs. Parsons, was in the kitchen, which was set well back in the yard, frying chicken, boiling the candy, and setting sillabubs to cool, in the torch-lit back-yard.” Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters.

tanglefoot = whisky. “‘Yu ask Buck where yore tanglefoot is.’ ‘I’d shore look nice askin’ th’ boss if he’d rustled my whisky, wouldn’t I?’” Clarence E. Mulford, Bar-20.

Texas tickler = a small measure of spirits. “A have n’ beaten since A peddled Texas tickler done up in Gospel hymn books filled wi’ whiskey.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.

Crystal Palace Saloon, Tombstone, 1885
thirst parlor = a saloon. “Hank kept sober just five hours. Then he got loose from Hairoil and made fer a thirst-parlour.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

tizwin = a fermented beverage made by the Apache Indians. “He was badly hurt, with a ball in his shoulder, and he was half drunk with tizwin, as well as being cut in a dozen places.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.

tongue-loosener = spirits. “Some devilment makes me throw a lariat of friendship over him and corral him over into the ho-tel and put tongue-loosener into him.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

toper = heavy drinker. “Some of them being as lavish of promises as a toper on the road to reform.” Lewis B. France, Pine Valley.

tot = a small glass of alcohol. “John yawned, and poured out a ‘tot’ of whisky for his friend.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

valley tan = a kind of whisky derived from wheat and potatoes, produced by Utah Mormons; anything homemade. “The ‘valley tan’ having been disposed of, Dan added:— ‘It was a boy!’” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.

Fort Whoop Up, 1881
wet = to drink to, toast. “Not till we wet your wedding.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

whoop up = nickname of Fort Hamilton, in Lethbridge, Alberta, where liquor was illegally sold to Indians. “A year or two in the Whoop Up country will season him and be the making of him.” Alice Harriman, A Man of Two Countries.

Sources: Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Dictionary of the American West, The Cowboy Dictionary, The Cowboy Encyclopedia, Cowboy Lingo, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and various online dictionaries

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons
"Grapes, Oysters, Hazelnuts, and Champagne Flute on a Draped Edge," Johann Wilhelm Preyer (1803-1889)
"Wine Drinker in Barrel Cellar,"Hermann Armin Kern (1839-1912)
"The Drinker," Charles Denet (1853-1939)
"Still Life with Wine Bottle," Alexej von Jawlensky (1865-1941)

Coming up: Convention vs. cliché


  1. I can add one. Growler:

    In the late 1800's and early 1900's, fresh beer could be carried from the pub or saloon in a small galvanized pail to your home, etc. Often kids delivered it and as they ran from the saloon, it would make a growling, rumbling noise.

    Growler's have made a comeback and in the Trenton and Princeton area, there is one outlet that sells 64 oz growlers of draft beer, usually the craft, quality beers. The beer is poured into glass jugs and one 64 oz jug lasts me two nights. It's like having two pints of the best draft beer. Unfortunately, no growling sound anymore!

    1. Good one. Reminds me of "grinder," the sandwich.

  2. I'll wait about an hour. But then I'll go for an Allston cocktail. Or several others on the list.

    1. Ha. Those mixed drinks that have come and gone after their 15 minutes of popularity tempt the taste buds.

  3. Gotta book mark this for reference for my next westerns. Thanks for all the research, man. You should publish some of these as kindle shorts.

    1. I originally meant to publish the glossaries, but reconsidered when I read your post about piracy of your fiction. I decided they would be more useful if they were available online and searchable.

  4. There's a lot of 'em and I think I tried about all of 'em and almost caught the jimjams from bein' half-seas over once't too many times. Great post!

    1. Ha. And this was written under the influence, right?

  5. Thanks for all this information, Ron. Very interesting and a definite one for future reference. I have filed it away.


    1. Pleased to know these might some day contribute a bit to a future western from your pen.

  6. A personal favorite from the Wolfville stories is "nose paint."

    1. You're right. I will add that one to the list.

  7. Fun list! Here in England people still use "tot" and "bracer".

    Back in the 1970s when I was going to camp in Canada and the U.S. we used to call the artificial fruit drink they gave us "bug juice." The joke was that it was made from crushed bugs! The term was quite widespread. I heard it in half a dozen daycamps and sleepover camps in two countries, and I've heard other people my age use it when talking of their childhoods. I wonder if it's still being used?

    Interesting use of "katzenjammer". I was familiar with the Katzenjammer Kids but didn't know their name meant anything!

    1. Thanks, Sean, for the commentary. In my trips to the UK, I've heard numerous drinking terms that were new to me. Don't know bug juice, and knew only the Katzenjammer Kids as well.

    2. Yup, "bug juice" pretty rampant in camping circles/Scouting in the 1970s...

    3. Bug juice was served at Officer Candidates' School in Quantico at least as late as 1979.

  8. You might be interested to know syllabub was popular in England from the 1600s on and in America, prior to the 19th century.

  9. Likely to have an a/v bracer today? (I still here that one, too...)

    1. Or, even, hear it. Not enough bracers today, clearly.