Saturday, November 16, 2013

Glossary of frontier fiction: D
(dinger - dray)

Below is a list of mostly forgotten terms, people, and the occasional song, drawn from a reading of frontier fiction, 1880–1915. Each week a new list, progressing through the alphabet, “from A to Izzard.”

dinger = something outstanding of its kind (cf. humdinger). “It would shore make a dinger of a hide-out.” W. C. Tuttle, Thicker Than Water.

Dinkey engine, steam shovel, c1914
dinkey = a small locomotive. “Cut our best cable two years ago and twice they’ve run the dinkey off the track into the slough.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

dip = a candle made by repeatedly dipping a wick into tallow. “By the time ‘a dip’ had been constructed the full weight of the disaster had fallen upon the defeated and despairing woman.” Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn.

dirk = a short dagger of a kind formerly carried by Scottish Highlanders. “They go loaded down with six-shooters and dirk knives.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

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

divvy = a share, portion. “I’m onto a lay now that promises to pan big. If it does, I’ll divvy square.” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.

do for = to injure, beat up, murder. “I thought sure Retief was going to do for you when I heard about it.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

do up = beat up. “Everybody he knew he either loved or hated, and was ready, according to his feeling, either to do anything for, or to “do up” on a moment’s notice.” Florence Finch Kelly, With Hoops of Steel.

dobe / ’dobe = a derisive term for the Mexican silver dollar (from Spanish, adobe). “Uncle Sam’s strongbox yielded up over a thousand dobes.” Andy Adams, Cattle Brands.

dodger = a small handbill or circular. “The editor issued an ‘Extra’ of dodger-like appearance, and it is doubtful if he would have used larger type to announce an anticipated visit of the President.” Caroline Lockhart, The Lady Doc.

dog = a short, heavy piece of steel, bent and pointed at one end to form a hook and with an eye or ring at the other, used for many purposes in logging. “A sharp, heavy logging ‘dog,’ had lost grip of a moving log under the strain of hauling, and flicking round had ripped a great wound down Fitz’s leg.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

Four-wheeled dog cart
dog-cart = A one-horse carriage, usually two-wheeled and high, with two transverse seats set back to back. “As they thus talked and loitered, Ben Davison came driving by in his dog-cart, with Clem Arkwright.” John H. Whitson, Justin Wingate, Ranchman.

Dog Soldiers = a militaristic band of Cheyenne Indians who resisted western expansion into Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming. “He bade them each mount behind an Indian,—his body guard, or staff, called the ‘Dog soldiers,’ because they worshipped dogs, having crowded about to protect their chief.” Cy Warman, Frontier Stories.

dog tent = a small tent shaped like a kennel. “He led a nomadic existence, moved continually from one piece of work to another, his temporary habitations ranging from modern hotels to dog tents and shacks.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

dogger = a worker performing a menial task. “No wonder nature kicks you out with all manner of illness. You are mere doggers of the machinery.” Honoré Willsie Morrow, The Heart of the Desert.

Dominecker = a black-and-white feathered chicken, considered cowardly because it will run from a fight. “A game-cock like you can do up a dozen yellow-legged Domineckers.” Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters.

domino = a large, hooded cloak with a mask covering the eyes, worn at masquerades. “I think the best plan is to wear a domino and mask, as we go in with you ladies, so that you may not be recognized.” Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, The Squatter and the Don.

donkey engine = a small auxiliary steam engine, esp. on a ship. “The donkey-engine was mounted in a trice and the big crates containing the mowing-machines were yanked out on deck.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

dope = a mixture of ingredients, edible or drinkable. “Better unsaddle and stop for grub; got some swell dope ’bout ready.” Therese Broderick, The Brand.

dope = grease, lubricant. “I’ll make that d—d or’nery Con Humphreys kill the biggest maverick in the bunch ’n’ write yu on th’ inside o’ hit’s hide, wi’ wagon dope fo’ ink ’n’ his pinted ole nose fo’ a pen.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman.

dope and roll = to fool, cheat. “Change was right; you can’t dope and roll me; gwan!” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

dopey = stupefied by sleep. “It don’t take as much sleep for me now as it used to, an’ I never was dopey.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

"Satan," Paul Gustave Doré
Doré, Paul Gustave = French artist, engraver, illustrator, and sculptor (1832-1883). “Again I saw the summit over which we passed, the Doréesque ravines and piled rocks, the forest trail, the valley where Mr. Pinkerton lay, on the cliff of which I had faced the terrors of the snake.” Frederick Niven, The Lost Cabin Mine.

dornick = a small stone, field stone. “‘By what that pint pans out,’ he says, ‘that should be twenty dollars worth of gold in this yere dornick!’” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville Folks.

dottle = the plug of half-smoked tobacco in the bottom of a pipe after smoking. “Old Rance knocked the dottle out of his pipe, shoved the pipe in his pocket, and leaned forward on the table, facing the sheriff.” W. C. Tuttle, Thicker Than Water.

double express = a double-barreled hunting rifle. “My brother and I each have a double express with us, and do you think we’d sit still in our seats?” Paul Leicester Ford, The Great K&A Train Robbery.

double-six = a team of six horses. “Save on the De Smet hill, there was a notable absence of ‘double-sixes’.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

double tree = a crossbar on a wagon or carriage to which two animals are harnessed side by side. “Now, me an’ Ches was about as different as they ever get, most ways, an’ yet we pulled a level double-tree out in the open.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

double-header = use of two railway locomotives to pull a long or heavy train. “The mail-trains dashing through and the leather bags rolling in the dust behind them now possessed a fascination for Frank, and, with the rest of his fellow-creatures, he would marvel over the cause for a ‘double-header.’” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.

Dougherty = a horse- or mule-drawn passenger wagon having doors on the side, transverse seats, and canvas sides that can be rolled down. “He had worked himself to such an implicit faith in the worst that he decided that the wide figure, heavily blue-veiled, and linen-dustered, on the back seat of the Dougherty was she.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.

doughgod = a logger’s term for bread. “’Tis a foine va-acation ye’re havin’ playin’ nurse fer a pinched toe, an’ me tearin’ out th’ bone fer to git out th’ logs on salt-horse an’ dough-gods ’t w’d sink a battle-ship.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

Doukhobour, pulling plow, Manitoba, 1899
Douks = Doukhobours; a colony of 19th-century Russian immigrants in western Canada. “I don’t know what they are, so I just call them Douks for want of something better.” William Lacey Amy, The Blue Wolf.

down on/to one’s uppers = very poor (reference to shoes from which heel and sole have been worn to nothing). “He made a little money, but he didn’t know enough to keep it…Got down to his uppers.” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.

Dr. Price’s baking powder = a baking powder sold in cans, advertised as the only baking powder that does not contain ammonia, lime, or alum. “He is one of these elder brothers to dear, defenseless little girls, being, himself, absolutely pure—like Price’s baking powder.” Hattie Horner Louthan, This Was a Man!

drag a lariat = to interfere. “She’s not to go draggin’ her lariat ’round loose no more, settin’ law an’ order.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

drag-stone = stone pushed against something to keep it from moving. “The rasping of a drag-stone on the floor gave warning that some one was pushing open the door from the outside.” Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters.

dragging the long rope = “a range euphemism for stealing other men’s cattle, specifically unbranded calves.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West.

Ottoman dragoman
dragoman = an interpreter, guide, diplomat, mediator. “‘You are the pink of dragomans,’ she said. ‘Don’t you want to go and smoke?” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

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

draw = to gather information. “I drawed, though, that Mace was havin’ a way-up time.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

draw it easy = an expression of disbelief or derision. “Tough! Say, that’s drawin’ it aisy. LaSals’s good enough for me.” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.

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.

Drawn thread work
drawn thread work = a form of embroidery based on removing threads from a piece of fabric, the remaining threads grouped or bundled together into a variety of patterns. “She was the repository of all possible patterns and combinations for the drawn-thread work which occupied the leisure of that time.” Mary Austin, Isidro.

dray = a low, heavy cart without sides, used for haulage. “The great flat-topped dray for hauling poles came last, with its four government mules.” Owen Wister, Lin McLean.

Previous: D (d.f. - ding)


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

Coming up: Race in early frontier fiction


  1. I've heard humdinger but never just dinger. Interesting.

    1. It may be a combination with "hummer," which also meant something exceptional, excellent.