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.”
flannel cake = a flat cake of thin batter fried on both sides on a griddle. “Billy pronounced the flannel cakes superior to flapjacks, which were not upon the bill of fare.” Owen Wister, Lin McLean.
flannel face = loudmouth, braggart, one who talks much to little effect. “‘Damned scoundrel’ sliden’ from yer flannel face is like a coyote roundin’ on a timber wolf.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.
flannel-mouthed = slow talking; loud; boasting; characterized by deceptive speech. “You ask for dirty work to be done, an’ when that dirty work’s done, gorl-darn-it you croak like a flannel-mouthed temperance lecturer.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.
flapper = an arm, hand. “Y’u see, I get him in the flapper without spoiling him complete.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.
flat head = a stupid, foolish person. “I enjoyed myself first rate, an’ upset a couple o’ delivery wagons because they wouldn’t make way for me, roped a runaway steer ’at had the whole town scared, an’ chased a flat-head clear into the Palace Hotel.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.
flaw = a squall of wind, a short storm. “He sprang to his feet, spluttering, clutching at the helm, losing his foothold on the slanting deck, while the Phantom raced down before the sudden flaw.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.
flax around = bestir oneself. “Ye’d a flaxed around’ ’n’ kep’ healthy—that’s what’s kep’ me a-goin’ all these years.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.
fleshpots of Egypt = luxurious or self-indulgent living, as reportedly found in Egypt by the Israelites (Exodus 16:3). “You can talk all you want to about the flesh-pots of Egypt—why, that cook could fix beans eleven different ways, an’ each one better ’n the other.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.
flick = to cut. “A blaze of anger leapt into his keen, flashing eyes. Lablache had flicked him sorely.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.
flicker out = to die. “She had married a good man, an’ had come out to the coast with him on account of his health, an’ he had flickered out without leavin’ her much but a stack o’ doctor’s bills an’ little Maggie.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.
flinders = fragments, small pieces, splinters. “It saved him from gettin’ his feelin’s kicked into flinders about him, an’ interferin’ with the view.” Robert Alexander Wason, Friar Tuck.
flintlock = a muzzle-loading firearm, using flint and steel to create a shower of sparks, which ignites the powder. “If a flintlock, the filling was to be taken out and the pan filled with tow or cotton.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.
flip-flap = a kind of somersault in which the performer throws himself over on his hands and feet alternately. “He will turn flip-flaps trying to make things pleasant for you, if you will give him the chance.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.
flop a lip over = to eat, taste. “The best bread ye ever flopped a lip over.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.
flirt = to fling. “When my boys found out that there was going to be trouble in town they surely flirted gravel for fear of arriving too late.” Roger Pocock, Curly.
flitch = a side of bacon, or halibut steak. “It was a laugh not born of, though it might have been fed upon, flitch and potatoes, and hence was not irritating.” Lewis B. France, Pine Valley.
float = gold in the form of flakes and dust washed down from the hills; the gold obtained by placer mining. “The piece of float was freshly severed and the flecks of yellow showed plainly in its split surface.” Adeline Knapp, The Well in the Desert.
floater = a writer who travels to gather and write up often erroneous impressions. “Bat’s floater was working for a Chicago boomster, who had issued a magazine to boom Western real estate.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.
Florida Water = an American eau de cologne introduced in New York in 1808. “Maype he trinks red ink gocktails, like de Injuns; maybe Florita Vater, oder golone.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.
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.
flubdub = pretentious nonsense; bunkum. “She’s lamed me up twice beating me—an’ Perkins wanting me to say ‘God bless my mother!’ a-getting up and a-going to bed—he’s a flubdub.” Owen Wister, Lin McLean.
flunky / flunkey = a cook, kitchen-hand, or waiter. “‘Waiter? You mean you want to be a flunky,’ he snapped, spitting. ‘D’you belong to the Union?’” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.
flutter = wagering at cards. “He would hurry off to the saloon for ‘half an hour’s flutter,’ which generally terminated in the small hours of the morning.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.
fly = a trick, a dodge. “Ha-ha, Gove’nuh! I rose, suh, to yoh little fly. We’ll awduh some mo’.” Owen Wister, Red Men and White.
fly = smart, sharp, aware. “Once an ole sport, / Of the right sort— / Daniels, by name, / Fly ’n dead game.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.
fly cop = plainclothes police man. “You’re worth a thousand bucks to any fly-cop that nips you in this town.” Henry Herbert Knibbs, Overland Red.
fly driver = a mechanical device for shooing away flies. “These were amateur attempts at fly-drivers, and were manipulated from time to time by a wire hung from end to end of the room.” Frances Charles, In The Country God Forgot.
flyaway = a flighty or frivolous person. “She was a little jealous, that explained things, and of that flyaway, there in the other room.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.
flyer = a lark, a fling. “She had had her ‘flyer’, and, allowing for social triumphs, returned to Butte to settle down.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.
“Flying Cloud, The” = a traditional song, believed to be Irish in origin, about piracy on the high seas. “She was coy, and only after Bishop had rendered the several score stanzas of ‘Flying Cloud’ did she comply.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.
fly-uppity = quick to anger. “I know that you’re the usefullest man I ever had, an’ you oughtn’t to be so fly-uppity.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.
fog = to go fast. “He ain’t hidin’; he’s foggin’. Betcha ten to one he never comes back.” W. C. Tuttle, Thicker Than Water.
|Army service stripe|
foot gong = a spherical bell operated by a foot pedal, used on horse carriages and early automobiles. “A whip flecked the bay, and the buggy started up Occidental Avenue to the blare of a foot-gong on the dashboard.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.
foot-log = a log used as a footbridge. “Siletz was gone, running like a deer, with long, smooth leaps, down the steep drop to the slough, across the foot-log and away to meet the slow-moving men.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.
footpad = a highway robber operating on foot; figuratively, a villain. “I knew he must have ducked when enfilading my footpad.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.
footwall = in mining, the rock underlying a vein or ore deposit. “Cut across the fault at once and follow it on the footwall side to the east.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.
foozle = a miss, a blunder. “The chief rattled off a few eeny-meeny-miney-mo sentiments to his god and again swung back his club for another foozle.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.
for fair = completely, absolutely, altogether. “The way y’u straddle them high notes is a caution for fair.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.
forage cap = generic name for various types of military undress, fatigue or working headresses. “Instinctively Perry’s hand went up to the visor of his forage-cap and bared the bright, curling crop of hair.” Charles King, Dunraven Ranch.
forced draft = proceeding at full speed or intensity. “Lord Ralles by this time was making almost as much noise as an engine pulling a heavy freight up grade under forced draft.” Paul Leicester Ford, The Great K&A Train Robbery.
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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: Alfred Wallon, Showdown in Abilene