Saturday, March 1, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: L
(La France rose – light a shuck )

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.”

La France rose = a rose developed in 1867 by Jean-Baptiste Guillot (1803–1882); generally accepted to be the first hybrid tea rose. “Marie Hampton was attired in a beautiful evening gown of white silk, with a knot of La France roses at her corsage.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

laboring oar = a position of hard work and chief responsibility. “I’ll bet they have to pull the laboring oar to get it.” S. Carleton Jones, Out of Drowning Valley.

lacking = a fool, a dunce. “It be a hard blow to me to know that my sons are lackings.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

ladino = said of a horse or cow in possession of crafty intelligence (from Spanish). “Pasquale had watched the band for an hour, and described the ladino stallion as a cinnamon-colored coyote, splendidly proportioned and unusually large for a mustang.” Andy Adams, A Texas Matchmaker.

ladrón = robber, thief (from Spanish, pl. ladrones). “All they could tell us was that there was plenty of ladrones and lots of horses.” Andy Adams, Cattle Brands.

Lady Baltimore cake = a white cake described in Owen Wister’s novel Lady Baltimore (1909) as “all soft and it’s in layers and it has nuts.” “The whites of sixteen aigs I put in this Lady Baltimore cake, and it’s light as a feather.” Caroline Lockhart, The Lady Doc.

Lady of Lyons, The = a popular romantic melodrama by English dramatist Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1903-1873); first performed in 1838. “Mrs. Tutts showed her public spirit by rehearsing Crowheart’s talented amateurs in an emergency performance of the ‘Lady of Lyons’ for the strangers’ evening entertainment.” Caroline Lockhart, The Lady Doc.

lag = to arrest. “I’ve kind of seen to the end of this racket. Maybe there’s trouble coming. Who’s to be lagged I can’t say.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

lagging = a covering for something either as insulation or protection. “The shaft was inclined, four by eight, and timbered with lagging.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

lala-kadinks = the high and mighty, style setters, culture vultures. “I ain’t a-layin’ no plans to have the lala-kadinks from the civilized parts o’ this country come out an’ round up my langwidge, same as they gather Injun specimens.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

Lalla = Persian princess, in a poetic romance, Lalla Rookh (1817), by Irish poet Thomas Moore. “He would do all right for the poet-prince—or was it a king? But  you—well, Rachel, you are not just one’s idea of a Lalla.” Marah Ellis Ryan, Told in the Hills.

lally/lolly cooler = someone or something successful or admirable. “An’ she was a shore lally-cooler all right! More prittys about th’ fixin’ up o’ that house than I’d allowed anything but a woman could pack.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman.

lam = to beat. “Ef he’d been my child, I’d a lammed it out’n him before he’d a seen two.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Lambrequins, 1898
lambrequin = a short ornamental drapery for the top of a window or door or the edge of a shelf. “Mrs. Campbell appliquéd a black velvet imp on a green felt lambrequin, and thought.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.

lamps = eyes. “She just stood around chewin’ gum and rollin’ her lamps at the head guy.” Henry Herbert Knibbs, Overland Red.

lancers = a quadrille for eight or sixteen pairs. “Lizzie has been looking for you; she wants you for a partner in the lancers.” Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, The Squatter and the Don.

lanterns = eyes. “Next, I had t’ go over and turn my lanterns on the lake.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

lapstone = a stone held in the lap for beating or shaping leather in the making of shoes. “At every halt of the wagons a shoemaker would be seen searching for a lapstone.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

larrigan = a moccasin with knee-high leggings made of oiled leather. “He arose, recovered the thongs of his larrigans from the futile snare, and made his way back on the trail as fast as he could flounder.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

larrup  = to strike, thrash. “Have yez no manners at all, at all? Be all th’ saints in glory I’ll larrup th’ head off iv yez.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

Lascar = a sailor from India or Southeast Asia. “The Lascar seaman that was here the other day has been wanting to see you, sir.” Bret Harte, Frontier Stories.

lashings = lots, an abundance. “Jim squatted down on the doorstep for a feed of pork and beans, with lashings of coffee.” Roger Pocock, Curly.

last run of shad = having a very thin, wretched, forlorn, or played-out appearance. “I don’t think I could accuse him of being personal—I look like ‘the last run o’ shad.’” G. Frank Lydston, Poker Jim, Gentleman.

lateen = a triangular sail on a long yard at an angle of 45 degrees to the mast. “Although at times a mere blank speck on the grey waste of foam, a closer scrutiny showed it to be one of those lateen-rigged Italian fishing-boats that so often flecked the distant bay.” Bret Harte, Frontier Stories.

lawn = a fine linen or cotton fabric used for making clothes. “The stiffly-starched lawn frocks, which would have been put on the little girls, were laid by, and a couple of dark calicoes substituted.” Grace and Alice MacGowan, Aunt Huldah.

lawsy = a mild oath expressing surprise, astonishment, or strength of feeling. “‘Jimminy, but your room’s pretty!’ exclaimed Ida. ‘Mine’s pink—but lawsy!” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

lay = any form of enterprise, often fraudulent, illegal, or unethical. “Ain’t one of the girls but ’ud fight ter hold yer up if yer were broke. Wisht I had that lay.” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.

lay = a share in a venture. “You must get employment on a lay—that is, you must induce some one to let you help work his claim on shares.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

lay down = to give up, quit. “The prime thought shook Gail that, since he was certain that Bleven would be the first to ‘lay down’ and steal at a crisis, the man was deceivingly preparing his rôle for that, bluffing to cover his tracks to the food.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

laying pipe = a politician’s efforts to accomplish some particular end, frequently his own political advancement. “Dr. Elliott, who came to atone for Dr. Addison’s shortcomings, found himself a possible candidate for State senator and was usually away, ‘laying pipe,’ when he was needed.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

lazaretto = a building or ship for diseased and quarantined people. “This political trickster, this outcast from European gutters, this huckster of lazaretto morals and bawd houses.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.

lead pumper = gunslinger, shooter. “He modestly mentioned that some of his friends thought he could shoot a little, but probably he would not be in it with a real Bitter Creek lead pumper.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman.

From Leaflets of Memory, 1846
Leaflets of Memory = an annual illustrated anthology of verse and prose. “And there was her book; not the book of Mormon, but a secular, frivolous thing called ‘Leaflets of Memory, an Illuminated Annual for the Year 1847’.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

leaguer = the camp of a besieging army. “Making the most of the present leaguer of a woman’s heart—a citadel whose capitulation was not to be compassed by mere money-might.” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

leary = wide awake, alert. “‘Get leary, old man,’ I whispered, excitedly, at this moment, ‘the boys are coming back.’” Will Levington Comfort, Trooper Tales.

leather and prunella = a matter of complete indifference (prunella, a strong silk or worsted fabric used for the gowns of graduates, members of the clergy, and barristers).  “Most of us entered chapel like rabbits sneaking down a turnip patch, but Arthur and John and Walter loitered in with the easy and assured manner of Senators or Generals—so much depends on leather and prunella.” Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border.  

Leckie = a work boot manufactured by the J. Leckie Company in Vancouver in the late 1800’s. “Leckie calls attention to his logging boot, whose bristling spikes are guaranteed to stay in.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

20th century edition
Lecks and Aleshine = two characters in a popular novel by Francis Richard Stockton, The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine (1886). “‘A which?’ bewilderedly returned the honest gentleman, whose reading had evidently stopped a long way short of the adventures of the ladies Lecks and Aleshine.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

led horse = a packhorse or spare horse. “Three troopers with a led horse—all four steeds panting from their half-mile race—reined up in front of the eastern portico in the full glare of the lights.” Charles King, Dunraven Ranch.

leg bail = unauthorized absence. “We grabbed Jim an’ hustled him out, an’ made him take leg bail ’long with the rest uv us.” G. Frank Lydston, Poker Jim, Gentleman.

leg it = to run. “No stops, or Tischer will run him down. Leg it! He’s half-way down the yard, now!” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

leghorn = the dried and bleached straw of an Italian variety of wheat. “She came in then, in her pretty blue muslin, with her leghorn hat and drooping plumes.” Patience Stapleton, Babe Murphy.

leña = firewood (from Spanish). “That’s right, Tiburcio, carry up plenty of good leña.” Andy Adams, A Texas Matchmaker.

let/shake a reef out = to enlarge (reference to adjusting the amount of sail exposed to the wind). “If you do anything like that again I’ll have to let a reef out of the band of my trousers.” John H. Whitson, Justin Wingate, Ranchman.

let fly = to suggest. “I simply let’s fly this hint, so any of you-alls as has got bric-a-brac he values speshul, he takes warnin’ some an’ packs it off all safe.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

levies = men enlisted for some purpose. “Bender and the woodmen beat back the monopoly’s levies while the trackmen laid the ‘diamond.’” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

Laura Jean Libbey, 1898
Libbey, Laura Jean = a popular writer of sensational romances for women, with serialized novels in publications like the New York Ledger. “The works of Mrs. Holmes and Laura Jean Libby intermingled on the book-shelves with the histories of all nations and bound volumes of Harper’s Weekly and the Scientific American.” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.

lick = sorghum molasses, used as a sweetener. “‘Lick’ (sorghum molasses) was the only dessert we had in the chuck wagon, and that with cured bacon, frijoles, bread, and coffee constituted our regular chuck.” Frank Collinson, Life in the Saddle.

lickety-brindle = very fast. “They fuss through a chapter here and there, and rush lickety-brindle through another.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

lie doggo = to remain motionless and quiet, hidden. “It was Mr. Julius Eckstein; and he is lying doggo in the MacMorrogh quarters. That’s all.” Francis Lynde, Empire Builders.

light a rag/shuck = to leave at high speed, run off fast. “They couldn’t quite hang it on him, but he lit a shuck to save his skin from lynchers.” William MacLeod Raine, Brand Blotters.

Next: L (light-o’-love – lyed corn)


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: Robert Mitchum, The Wonderful Country (1959)


  1. I've used Light a shuck in actually talking to people. Unless they were Louis L'Amour readers they had no idea what I was talking about. I rather enjoyed that.

  2. My mother used "Lawsy me" quite often. And there is lally/lolly gagging, e.g., Quit lollygagging and get to work!.