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.”
taboret = a small portable stand or cabinet. “Richard lay indolently in the veranda hammock within easy reach of the bottles and glasses on a small taboret.” Hattie Horner Louthan, This Was a Man!
taffrail = a rail and ornamentation around a ship’s stern. “The faintest line of contour yet left visible spoke of the buoyancy of another element; the balustrade of her roof was unmistakably a taffrail.” Bret Harte, Frontier Stories.
taffy = insincere and obvious flattery. “That Simpson’s tryin’ t’ cut me out—and so he’s givin’ you all this taffy about your voice.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.
tail a pony = a rough practical joke played by one rider on another, as explained in the following quote. “It’s ridin’ up from the r’ar an’ takin’ a half-hitch on your saddle-horn with the tail of another gent’s pony, an’ then spurrin’ by an’ swappin’ ends with the whole outfit,—gent, hoss, an’ all.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.
take a brace = to pull oneself together, smarten up. “She finally took a brace a’ told him to hit the trail, an’ he had gone off.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.
take a flyer = to take a chance or a risk. “I’ve taken fliers in prospecting; I’m out of it for keeps.” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.
take a shy = to attempt damage by sarcasam or verbal attack. “‘Of all the gall!’ growls Chub Flannagan, gittin’ hot. ‘Goin’ t’ take a shy outen us!’” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.
“Take Back Your Gold” = a popular parlor song from 1897. “She sang ‘Take Back Your Gold’ with touching effect, which brought a fiery moisture into the eyes of the Fraction King.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.
take the long trail = to die. “I want to keep my range until the time comes for me to take the long trail.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.
taking = capturing interest, fetching. “He is a very taking young fellow, with his handsome face and good-natured smile.” Florence Finch Kelly, With Hoops of Steel.
talking-paper = Indian term for written message, letter, document. “Genesee has sent in the talking-paper to Ole-Man Mac that the Reservation Indians south have dug up the hatchet.” Marah Ellis Ryan, Told in the Hills.
talking wire = Indian term for the telegraph. “The Indians had learned the use of the White-eye’s talking wire very promptly.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.
tall swearing = perjury, false testimony. “There was every prospect that when the court convened—and they well knew it would be ordered—there would be some ‘tall swearing’.” Charles King, Dunraven Ranch.
tally-ho = a fast, horse-drawn coach. “Smart society people in high traps and tally-hos.” Mary MacLane, The Story of Mary MacLane.
|Woman at tambour frame|
tanbark = the bark of the oak or hemlock, milled for use in tanning hides; thus, “tanbark ring,” a surface covered with pieces of tanbark, especially a circus ring. “Buckskin and feathers may swirl in the tan-bark rings to the tune of Money Musk.” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.
tangent = straight railway track. “The electric beam of Tischer’s following headlight sought and found the first section on the long tangent leading up to the high plains, and the race was in full swing.” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.
tanglefoot = whisky. “‘Yu ask Buck where yore tanglefoot is.’ ‘I’d shore look nice askin’ th’ boss if he’d rustled my whisky, wouldn’t I?’” Clarence E. Mulford, Bar-20.
tansy = tea made from this medicinal herb was used to treat migraine, neuralgia, rheumatism, and worms. “I thought I’d jest come over and bring ye a little mite of double tansy.” Emma Ghent Curtis, The Fate of a Fool.
taradiddle = a petty lie. “Considering that it was about six-thirty, I wanted to ask who was telling a taradiddle now.” Paul Leicester Ford, The Great K&A Train Robbery.
tarnal = damned (used as an intensifer; cf. tarnation). “I understand too tarnal well. If I had my way I’d kick his ornery carcass out of this house.” John H. Whitson, Justin Wingate, Ranchman.
tear a shirt = bestir oneself. “That ain’t nothin’ to tear a shirt over.” W. C. Tuttle, Thicker Than Water.
tear out the bone = to exert oneself. “Bill’ll be boss, an’ th’ min’ll tear out th’ bone to bate Moncrossen!” James Hendryx, The Promise.
tell off = assign to a particular task. “I did my share in the exciting and dirty work of cutting out; and sometimes was told off to lend a hand at the branding during the succeeding days.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!
telephone house = a hotel with walls so thin one must whisper not to be overheard in other rooms. “Those accustomed to what are termed ‘telephone houses,’ talked in whispers, but those coming into such houses for the first time, usually divulged to the public many of their secrets and little personal chitter-chatter that was never intended for foreign ears.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.
telescope valise = a valise made of two pasteboard boxes, one shutting down over the other and held in place by straps. “She had a dirty white handkerchief tied over her head—as all Italian peddler-women do—and she had a telescope valise.” Mary MacLane, The Story of Mary MacLane.
|Mary Jane Holmes|
Tempest and Sunshine = a novel by Mary Jane Holmes (1825-1907), prolific and best-selling American author; published 1854. “Anything in print received our most respectful consideration. Jane Porter’s Scottish Chiefs brought to us both anguish and delight. Tempest and Sunshine was another discovery.” Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border.
ten-twenty-thirty = a cheap and typically melodramatic theatrical entertainment; so-called because of the price in cents of seats. “‘Must be in Chicago this evening,’ he muttered quite audibly, pulling a ten, twent, thirt frown that caused his labial foliage to rustle with importance.” James Hendryx, The Promise.
tens up = in poker, having two pair where the higher pair are tens. “I tharfore makes as an order that yereafter thar’s to be a rake on tens-up or better, showed, to make a fund to back this play.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.
Texas tickler = a small measure of spirits. “A have n’ beaten since A peddled Texas tickler done up in Gospel hymn books filled wi’ whiskey.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.
Texas Tommy = a popular dance originating around 1910 in the dancehalls of the Barbary coast in San Francisco. “I’ve been trainin’ some chickens to do the Texas Tommy.” Henry Herbert Knibbs, Overland Red.
that’s whatever = an emphatic expression of agreement with a preceding comment. “‘Soon as we reach the end of the street we better cut across that hayfield,’ suggested Ned. ‘That’s whatever.’” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.
thewed = muscled. “The massive thewed frontiersman with the shock of white hair and ruddy cheeks and almost boyish eyes.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.
thills = the poles or shafts of a wagon or cart. “They were in to the hubs, the thills; then the green waters licked up through the buck-board staves.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.
thimble-rig = a betting game in which a small ball or pea is quickly shifted from under one to another of three small cups to fool a spectator guessing its location. “There ain’t hardly room fer their feet fer the pikers an’ tin-horns an’ thimble-riggers what are layin’ fer ’em.” Stephen Crane, “Twelve O’Clock.”
thimbleberry = a wild black raspberry. “Spread out upon the large, green thimble-berry leaves were several beautiful speckled and salmon-tinted trout, all large and firm.” Therese Broderick, The Brand.
thirst parlor = a saloon. “Hank kept sober just five hours. Then he got loose from Hairoil and made fer a thirst-parlour.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.
Thomas, Seth = American clockmaker (1785-1859) and pioneer of mass production. “The silence which followed was broken only by the ticking of the old-fashioned Seth Thomas clock and the roar of the fire.” Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn.
Previous: S (straddlebug – syringa)
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: Film review: Jimmy P.