Saturday, April 26, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: P-Q
(pork pie – Queer Street)

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.”

pork pie = a small round hat with a narrow brim worn by women in the mid-19th century, usually with a ribbon or hatband where the crown joined the brim, with a small feather or two attached to a bow on one side; made of various materials (straw, felt, cotton canvas covered in silk). “The hat thus procured, a few days later, became, by the aid of a silk handkerchief and a bluejay’s feather, a fascinating ‘pork pie.’” Bret Harte, Frontier Stories.

A. MacMechan, 1897
port = deportment, carriage, bearing. “And there’s the sky pilot! What a Jovelike port!” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

“Porter of Bagdad, The” = title of a whimsical story by Canadian author Archibald McKellar MacMechan (1862-1933). “Mr. Nitschkan, with something of the sensation of the Porter of Bagdad when he awoke to find himself in the palace of the Princess of China, now completely threw off the surly suspicion of the early evening.” Nancy Mann Waddell Woodrow, The New Missioner.

Porter, Jane = Scottish historical novelist (1776-1850); author of Scottish Chiefs (1810), a novel about William Wallace. “Anything in print received our most respectful consideration. Jane Porter’s Scottish Chiefs brought to us both anguish and delight.” Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border.

portière = a heavy curtain hung across a doorway. “The tiers of almost priceless volumes, the antique furniture, the costly Persian rugs and portieres, the pictures, bronzes, bric-à-brac,—all were valueless in his eager eyes.” Charles King, Dunraven Ranch.

Portland Fancy = a traditional dance for four couples. “‘I expect you used to dance a lot,’ remarked Sabina, for a subject. ‘Yes. Do yu’ know the Portland Fancy?’” Owen Wister, Lin McLean.

post oak = a slow-growing, drought resistant, medium-sized tree found in the Southeastern and South Central U.S., used widely for fence posts (also called iron oak). “The sun was near its setting; a yellow haze filtered through the scant foliage of the stubby post-oaks that covered the wide monotonous stretch of rolling country.” Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters.

pot = to shoot. “I’d pot any man tried that on me.” Adeline Knapp, The Well in the Desert.

pot cheese = a type of coarse, dry cottage cheese. “He also took some pot-cheese under a misapprehension; swallowed it, and said to himself that he had been through worse things than that.” Henry Wallace Phillips, Red Saunders.

pot hunter = one who hunts game for food, ignoring the rules of sport. “The mallard pair had few enemies to dread, their island being so far from shore that no four-footed marauder, not even the semi-amphibious mink himself, ever visited it. And the region was one too remote for the visits of the pot-hunter.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

pot hound = a dog of indeterminate breed, a mongrel. “Common old pot hounds and everyday yellow dogs have gone out of style entirely.” Andy Adams, The Log of a Cowboy.

pot-valor = courage or bravery as the result of being drunk. “During these moments he did not forget to wear his air of advanced pot-valor.” Stephen Crane, The Blue Hotel.

potato = a large hole in a sock; alternatively, an actual potato used inside a sock while mending. “The old woman bent over her darning, and the needle passed, rippling, round a ‘potato’ in the sock which was in her lap.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

pothook = a curved stroke in handwriting. “She has mastered the pothooks of shorthand so thoroughly that she is able to report the speeches of our public men, although some of them are very rapid talkers.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

Potlatch, E. Curtis, 1914
potlatch = a ceremonial feast among certain Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, involving the giving of gifts. “And as for dress, the average woman piles a lot of truck on her like a klootch at a potlatch.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

poudre day = a winter weather condition in which there is a fine, white, powdered frost in the air. “A day like this is called a poudre day; and woe to the man who tempts it unthinkingly, because the light makes the delicate mist of frost shine like silver.” Gilbert Parker, Northern Lights.

poultice = a soft moist mass of bread, meal, clay, or other adhesive substance, usually heated, spread on cloth, and applied to warm, moisten, or stimulate an aching or inflamed part of the body; thus a soothing remedy. “We put away one poultice, and then paralyzed another.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

pound one’s ear = to sleep. “Gee whiz, I’m sleepy! I’m goin’ to pound my ear again.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West.

pound sand = to engage in a futile activity; to go away. “When it comes to the in-fighting he hasn’t sense enough to pound sand.” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

praties = potatoes. “An’ phwat’ll ye be doin’? Peelin’ praties fer that dommed pisener in th’ kitchen.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

pre-emptor = someone who acquires or uses land without permission. “Three months dragged out their slow length before the pre-emptors could file and escape from their claims.” Hamlin Garland, The Moccasin Ranch.

Pride of Colorado = flour made from locally grown wheat at the Lindell Mill in Fort Collins, Colorado. “Her face would have blushed with pleasure until it shone red as the artificial poppies on her head, had not the layer of Pride of Colorado flour been too thick upon her features.” Emma Ghent Curtis, The Fate of a Fool.

prie dieu = a low bench for kneeling. “She prays a great deal and has a beautiful prie-dieu, carved all over.” Gertrude Atherton, Los Cerritos.

principe = Cuban cigar, Principe de Gales (Prince of Wales), manufactured from 1869 in Key West, then Tampa, Florida. “Again the Old Cattleman relapsed into silence and the smoke of the principe.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

prink = to preen oneself. “She sang at her work—warbling that was natural as that of the little bird which prinks and plumes for its mate in the morning sunlight.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

prisoner’s base = a children’s game in which each of two teams has a home base where members of the opposing team are kept prisoner after being tagged and from which they can be freed only in specified ways. “They had attended their first school together, had played marbles and prisoners’ base a hundred times against each other.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

probationer = a person in training for the ministry or for the teaching or nursing profession. “News drifted into the post-office that Ruth was to be married to the Probationer, the young minister who preached Morrill’s funeral sermon.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

procurador = an attorney. “Mr. Wythe, the procurador, had raised himself—I thought to deliver his verdict, but it had not come to that yet.” Charles Sealsfield, The Cabin Book.

prog = to poke, prod. “Donoghue pulled out a clasp-knife and sat progging in the sand with it.” Frederick Niven, The Lost Cabin Mine.

Henry George, 1865
Progress and Poverty = a treatise on the cyclical nature of an industrial economy, explaining why poverty exists despite advances in technology, by Henry George, published 1879. “Armed with quotations from Progress and Poverty, the man who had for years worked on one of the Hays’s farms at a primary took from the Congressman and ex-Governor his most important precinct.” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.

project = wander around, stroll. “Hain’t seen him projectin’ ’round lately, but I’m allowin’ he’s at the bank as usual.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

promiscuous = freely. “Up on both sides a select assortment of Winchesters begins to bang an’ jump permiscus.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

proxene = an officer in charge of offering hospitality to visitors from a friendly city or state. “I am proxene in camp today; but I must confess no visitors were expected.” Therese Broderick, The Brand.

prunes and prisms = affected, primly precise, or priggish speech or behavior. “An’ the boys can’t be expected to go a-tiptoe and talk prunes an’ prisms, all along o’ a little yaller-haired kid what’s come to brighten up the old camp fer us.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

Psyche knot
Psyche knot = a way of dressing the hair at the back of the head in imitation of the ancient Greeks; also “Grecian knot.” “She done her hair like a tied-up horse-tail—my wife called it a Sikey knot—and it stood out a foot from her head.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

pudding bag = a bag in which a pudding is boiled, usually not sewed in any way, but a cloth gathered around the uncooked pudding and tied with a string. “Elizabeth carried her books home under her arm, bulging out one side of her circular like an unevenly inflated pudding-bag.” Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn.

pug = a prizefighter, boxer, brawler; one who relies more on savagery than skill. “He had drawled of his early days as a barroom pug in Omaha.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

Puke / Puche = a Missourian; derived from one of several 19th-century nicknames for Missouri, “The Puke State”; origin uncertain. “The Hoosiers of Indiana, and the Suckers of Illinois, the Puches of Missouri.” Charles Sealsfield, The Cabin Book.

pulky = pulque, a Mexican alcoholic drink made by fermenting sap from the maguey (aloe or century plant). “Riding up to the bar, I ordered keller for myself and a generous measure of pulky for my horse, both popular Mexican drinks.” Nat Love, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love.

“Pull For the Shore” = a hymn by Philip P. Bliss (1838 - 1876) published in Sunshine for Sunday Schools (1873). “Within a minute the three mutineers had marched into the middle of the room. In loud, ear-piercing notes they began to sing ‘Pull for the Shore.’” Horace Annesley Vachell, Bunch Grass.

pulled = arrested and taken before a magistrate. “An’ be pulled f’r it, wid yer name in the papers, an’ a fine, an’ a lawyer to pay, an’ all.” A. M. Chisholm, The Boss of Wind River.

pully-haul = to pull or haul with all one’s strength. “The cowboys started out over the sand, pell mell, ‘pully haul,’ in a medley of shrieks and oaths and thunderous bellowings.” Adeline Knapp, The Well in the Desert.

pumble = to pound, thump, hit with one’s fists. “Mike grabbed Pat in his arms, chucked his sprangled fingers down his shirt-collar, nudged him in the ribs and pumbled him off toward the nearest saloon.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

puncheon = plank-covered, as a roadway, or sidewalk in a frontier town. “Neither of the two in the great room heard the footfalls of one who approached in the dusk across the puncheon floor of the wide gallery.” Emerson Hough, Heart’s Desire.

pung = a sleigh with a boxlike body drawn by a single horse; a toboggan. “Mother and the children brought up the rear in a pung’ drawn by old Josh, a flea-bit gray.” Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border.

punk = soft, crumbly wood that has been attacked by fungus. “Think? With a brain like punk?” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

pure = an excellent, first-class person or thing. “He’s ce’tainly a pure when it comes to riding.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

purp = a dog, pup. “Wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep, kinda whined all the time, like a sick purp.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

pursy = fat, corpulent. “He had grown pursy and portly; the hatchet face had puffed out and the sharp nose was rounded to a scarlet bulb at the end.” Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters.

push = a crowd, group, gang. “I see—you was broke and so you went on with the Dago push till such times as the white gang would come along?” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

pusky = a mixed-blood frontier gathering for dancing and drinking. “This pusky. I suppose it will be the usual drunken orgie?” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

pussy wants a corner = a parlor game for children in which one player in the middle of a room tries to take one of the positions around the walls and corners that become vacant as other players exchange places at a signal. “Another slinking shadow glided behind the vacated position. It was a ghastly presentation of ‘Pussy-wants-a-corner’ played in nightmare.” Kate and Virgil Boyles, Langford of the Three Bars.

put in = to pass or spend the time doing something. “He declined Murchison’s invitation to ‘put in,’ and rode on.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

put on dog = to show off, put on airs. “Don’t put on dog just because you belong to the white race. You’re disreputable, and you know it.” Honoré Willsie Morrow, The Heart of the Desert.

put on side = to assume or take on pretentious airs. “Being thoroughbred stock, this British lord and his son didn’t need to put on side, or make themselves out to be better than common folks like me.” Roger Pocock, Curly.

put the skibunk on = to impose, defraud. “I couldnt let him put the skibunk on you.” O. Henry, Heart of the West.

put through a course of sprouts = to beat, flog, subject to harsh discipline. “Every incident in the history of the street is put through a course of sprouts by these same tireless members.” Mary MacLane, The Story of Mary MacLane.

put to the brush = to beat, defeat. “Some claims he c’ud put th’ boss himself to th’ brush, wunst he got shtar-rted.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

quaggy = like a marsh, soggy (cf. quagmire). “The trail was narrow just there and wound through a quaggy belt where tall wild cabbage grew out of the black depths of mire.” Harold Bindloss, Alton of Somasco.

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.

Queer Street = any difficult situation. “Balmy on the crumpet. Bats in his belfry. Qualifying for Queer Street. Plumb crazy. Poor old Lucky!” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.


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: Paul S. Powers, Riding the Pulp Trail

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