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.”
forcemeat = finely ground and highly spiced meat, fish, or poultry that is served alone or used in stuffing. “It was a very comfortable meal,—soup with force-meat balls, chicken, beef dressed with peppers, a dish of spiced pumpkin, another of fried beans, fine flour cakes, and light sour wine of the Mission’s own making.” Mary Austin, Isidro.
foretop = a lock of hair growing above or arranged on a person’s forehead, a forelock. “His foretop was long, and he wore it over one ear like a hoss’s when the wind is blowin’.” Henry Herbert Knibbs, Overland Red.
forfeits = a parlor game in which a judge requires the owner of a personal item to perform an act or stunt to retrieve it. “Every mother in the house knew what forfeits and post-office meant; some of them were watching the players at their peculiar merriment.” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.
forninst = opposite to, facing; alongside. “Chilkat Jo, man, look what devil’s work is going on forninst ye! Can’t ye say the word to stop it?” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.
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.
forty ways from the jack = in every way possible. “He’s the only man ever got me skinned forty ways from the Jack.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.
forty-five ninety = a round of ammunition introduced in 1877 by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company. “‘Keep a constant eye on the grub.’ ‘And on the forty-five-nineties,’ Captain McGregor rumbled back as he passed out the door.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.
Four Hundred = the exclusive social set of a city. “If you go down there take your plug hat, patent-leather shoes, dress suit, and a book on London etiquette, and drop your H’s, if you wish to thrive with the Four Hundred.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.
four-flusher = a cheat, scrounger, one who fails to pay debts. “All ‘pikers’ and ‘four-flushers’ were omitted; none but the élite of the gun-twirling, blackjack swinging toughs was included.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.
|Four-in-hand, Thomas Eakins, 1899|
Fourth Reader = a textbook of instructive readings for elementary school students. “Then came a few stanzas about his lost youth, and ‘Oft in the Stilly Night,’ and other Fourth Reader stunts.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.
fox = to ornament with a strip of leather. “He wore . . . dark cassimere trousers ‘foxed’ with buckskin around the waistband and the bottom of the legs, and with diamonds of buckskin on each knee.” Frances McElrath, The Rustler.
frap = to strike, beat. “The old frontiersman literally avalanched off his broncho and made a dash at the tent flap, frapping it loudly with the flat of his hand.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.
Free Silver = a populist political movement advocating a monetary system in which (like gold) the value of mined silver was the same as the face value of silver coinage. “Some one or two drinks were handed to me, however, a handful of cigars and six dollars change. Them Free Silver fellows shore believed what they said.” Eugene Manlove Rhodes, “The Numismatist.”
freebooter = a person, such as a pirate, who lives off of plunder. “Bred and raised a merry freebooter on the unbranded spoils of the cattle range, it was no long step from stealing a maverick to holding up a train.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.
freeze out = a game of poker in which play continues until one player has all the chips. “Let’s put up ten dollars and play ‘freeze-out’ for it.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.
freeze to it = hold fast to something. “This trail goes somewhere; may be to an Injun village. I allow we’d better freeze to it.” Marah Ellis Ryan, Told in the Hills.
French Fours = a country dance. “There were French Fours, Copenhagen jigs, Virginia reels,—spirited figures blithely stepped.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.
Fresno = a horse-drawn scraper used for excavation. “The acres of land untouched by grader’s Fresno or rancher’s plow were many more than the acres that were producing crops.” Harold Bell Wright, The Winning of Barbara Worth.
frieze = a heavy durable coarse woolen with a rough surface. “Then there are oilskins and blankets and rough suits of frieze for winter wear, and woolen mitts.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.
frill = fringe. “Four days later we’re in camp by a water-hole in the frill of the foot-hills.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.
frisk = to rob or steal. “They frisked Joe Manning fer sixty bucks last year. I seen ’em do it.” James Hendryx, The Promise.
froe / frow = a cleaving tool for splitting thick pieces of wood into thinner slabs, used for making wooden roof shingles. “I had my mallet and frow up there two days now, just beyond the lower dry-fork, splitting out shakes for my new addition.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.
frog = an elastic, horny substance growing in the middle of the sole of a horse’s hoof. “His horse had picked up a small stone in the frog of its right front foot, and was limping badly.” W. C. Tuttle, Thicker Than Water.
frog = the point in a railroad switch where two rails cross. “‘I’ve caught my foot in a switch-frog,’ muttered Kut-le, keeping his hold on Rhoda with one hand while with the other he tugged at his moccasined foot.” Honoré Willsie Morrow, The Heart of the Desert.
from the jump= from the beginning. “It’s cl’ar from the jump he ain’t meant by Providence for the cattle business.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.
from wire to wire = from start to finish. “They would fuss an’ stew an’ revile each other an’ keep it up all through dinner; an’ then go off in the afternoon an’ scrap from wire to wire.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.
frontier knock = a scratching sound made on the flap of a tent. “She had heard the unmistakable voice of Mr. Moore. Had he used that frontier knock?” Alice Harriman, A Man of Two Countries.
frost = a failure. “The first dance was almost a frost; but soon a man got to calling out numbers, and every one warmed up.” Frances Charles, In The Country God Forgot.
frost plant = any plant on the stems of which crystals of ice are formed during the first freezing weather of autumn. “The frost plant was just peepin’ its soft brown cone through the fat earth for a glimpse of sunlight.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.
funk = shirk, evade, back out. “You lead right on. Where you can travel I’ve a notion I’m not likely to funk.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.
furbelow = flounce, ruffles, trimming on a woman’s garment. “I do not know the price of the latest frills and furbelows in London.” William Lacey Amy, The Blue Wolf.
furniture car = a railroad car higher and wider than an ordinary box car. “He’s up there at the house to-night, with an automobile big as a furniture car.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.
fusee = a large headed match capable of staying lit in a strong wind. “Being a confirmed smoker, I had naturally some fusees with me.” Charles Sealsfield, The Cabin Book.
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.
Previous: F (flannel cake – forced draft)
Next: G (gad – going tick)
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: Marlon Brando, Appaloosa (1966)