Saturday, July 19, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: T
(touch a hunchback – tyro)

Below is a list of mostly forgotten terms, people, and the occasional song, drawn from a reading of mostly frontier fiction, 1880–1915. Each week a new list, progressing through the alphabet, “from A to Izzard.”

touch a hunchback = a superstition, believed to bring good luck. “The mere mention of it brings better fortin’ than touchin’ a hunchback.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

touch-me-not = a person who does not allow or invite touching. “He waited a moment, watching her in mingled amusement and pique. ‘Another touch-me-not,’ he told himself.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

touching pitch = to come under a bad influence; from the proverb “He that touches pitch shall be defiled.” “They were taught copy-book morals about touching pitch, I reckon.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.

tow = the coarse and broken part of flax or hemp prepared for spinning. “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.

Town Topics = a magazine devoted to gossip about high-society people. “He had been lying for some time with his eyes half closed, a half-consumed cigarette between his lips, an uncut Town Topics in his hand.” Hattie Horner Louthan, This Was a Man!

trail out = death. “I don’t like a knife none myse’f as a trail out.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

trammer = a mine worker loading broken ore or mineral into a tram, a box-like wagon on rails. “The little thin, nervous lady, whose husband was merely a trammer in the mine, had no such violence of energy either for or against in her mind.” Frances Charles, In The Country God Forgot.

trap rock = a dark colored igneous rock of great weight and strength, including basalt and feldspar. “She had rounded the craggy hill on their right and was in sight of a scattered grove of boxelders below a dike of dark colored trap rock that outcropped across the bed of the creek.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

traps = personal effects, belongings, baggage. “Mike got a few necessary traps together and started.” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.

traveling glass = a drinking glass with carrying case; drinking cup with lid. “I screwed the cover on the traveling-glass, and put it with the sandwiches in the bottom of the stage.” Paul Leicester Ford, The Great K&A Train Robbery.

trencherman = a hearty eater. “You ought to be a valiant trencher-man at your age!” Mary Hallock Foote, The Led-Horse Claim.

trick at the wheel = time allotted to a sailor on duty at the helm. “I’ve played the baby act on this picnic as much as I propose to. It is my trick at the wheel.” Honoré Willsie Morrow, The Heart of the Desert.

tricks = belongings, personal possessions. “I’ll bet yu my outfit, gun, saddle ’n’ tricks, again yurn yu caint pick airy cow ’n’ calf outen th’ herd yu yu’sef, single-handed, kin keep bunched by ther lonesomes.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman

trig = neat, trim, smart, well dressed. “When the trig-looking couple galloped up to the dingy ranch she was standing in the doorway.” Frances McElrath, The Rustler.

Trilby = name of the artist’s model who falls under the influence of Svengali in George du Maurier’s 1895 novel, Trilby. “The president of the delegation had a little powwow with the other Trilbys and then waved his spear, and we were hustled along towards the upper end of the valley.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

John Townsend Trowbridge
Trowbridge, John Townsend = prolific American writer of fiction and juvenile tales (1827-1916). “I read about a boy whose name is Jack Hazard and who, J. T. Trowbridge informs the reader, is doing his best, and who seems to find it somewhat difficult.” Mary MacLane, The Story of Mary MacLane.

truck = an undercarriage with four to six wheels pivoted beneath the end of a railroad car. “Over the ice-coated foot-boards of the jostling cars the brakeman hurried, running and jumping, a slip meaning mutilation beneath the grinding trucks.” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.

truckle = to gain favor by cringing or flattering. “Everyone truckled to her shamefully, receiving her lightest remarks as if they were to be inscribed on tablets of bronze.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

trump = an admirable person. “That’s what I call a trump of a girl, worth loving for a lifetime.” Paul Leicester Ford, The Great K&A Train Robbery.

tub camp = laundry. “S’pose you canter up to his tub-camp an’ bring him over, and’ we’ll reveal this upheaval in his shirt-burnin’ destinies by word of mouth.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

tub trundler = laundryman/woman. “This yere tub-trundler’s name is Lung, which, however, brands no cattle yere.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

tumble = to realize. “It was at this here point that I tumbles to it where they had come from.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

Pack with tumplines
tumpline = a sling formed by a strap slung over the forehead or chest and used for carrying or helping to support a pack on the back or in hauling loads. “I’d jest tump-line th’ whole bunch o’ youse ’t one load from th’ landin’ ’t’ th’ Bertrand farm if that feller wa’n’t settin’ with his back t’ th’ stump, facin’ up th’ runway, his rifle ’tween his knees ’n’ his fool head lopped over on one shoulder, dead asleep!” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

tumtum = Chinook jargon for heartbeat; firmly held belief. “‘This kid is some obstinate,’ he called to Dade. ‘His tumtum is that he’ll stick. I don’t want him in it.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

tumultuous = over-excited, unruly. “Don’t suppose Hugh’ll get toomultuous-like an’ troubled with the swell-head, do you, now that he is financially loafin’ ’round in sight of a mint?” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

tunk = all-purpose euphemism for “hell, “Devil,” etc. “How in tunk did he ever git where he is now?” Adeline Knapp, The Well in the Desert.

turkey = a hold-all or bundle carried by an itinerant worker or vagrant. “You pack your turkey and get down to his ranch before sun-up to-morrow.” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.

turkey = to gather around, follow, move about. “How the fellers used to come a-turkeyin’ around after me in them days!” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

Turkey red = cotton cloth dyed red, a process originating in the Ottoman Empire. “The citizens never failed to wave the Stars and Stripes, and hang up a few yards of Turkey red, and litter the place with evergreen on these occasions.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Sheriff of Dyke Hole.

turn a penny = earn money. “Although we had netted no giants we had turned an amiable penny by endeavors on the side.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

turn turtle = turn over, capsize, be upset. “The doctor felt of his head as if his brain were turning turtle.” Frank H. Spearman, Whispering Smith.

turn in = to stop doing something. “If you insists on pushin’ along through here I’ll turn in an’ crawl your hump some.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

turnip = an old-fashioned watch. “I looked at my nickel turnip. It was five-thirty.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

turnout = a carriage or other horse-drawn vehicle with its horse or horses. “Huldah had been obliged to get her turnout from a Mexican who sometimes hired conveyances to the drummers who came through Blowout.” Grace and Alice MacGowan, Aunt Huldah.

tush = elongated tooth of an animal. “Tommy Postmaster had paid high for a necklace of elk-tushes the government scout at McKinney sold him.” Owen Wister, Lin McLean.

22-short = reference to ammunition developed in 1857 for the first Smith & Wesson revolver, so named after the introduction of the .22 long cartridge in 1871. “Tubbs’s mental caliber was 22-short; but Smith needed help, and Tubbs seemed the most pliable material at hand.” Caroline Lockhart, Me—Smith.

twist = an appetite. “I’ve got a ‘twist’ on me that’ll take considerable to satisfy.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

twisting = anxiety, unhappiness. “Them all-fired skitters is givin’ me a twistin’.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

two by twice = small, limited in size; cf. two-by-four. “And spoil a good foreman to make a two by twice lawyer.” Hattie Horner Louthan, This Was a Man!

two-forty = traveling quickly; of a horse, trotting a mile in two minutes and forty seconds. “Bergin was makin’ fer the freight shed, two-forty.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

two old cat = a bat-and-ball game with two batters, as in cricket. “The game reminded me of my youth and two-old-cat.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

Typesetter, 1880s
tyee = Chinook word for chief or boss. “At the end of his captivity he had found himself poor and forgotten and another tyee raised in his place.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

typo = a compositor, typesetter. “In addition to this she is the ‘typo’ of the Patriot.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

tyro = a beginner, novice. “The ill-matched pair traversed the road across the creek until the tyro had learned the philosophy of yielding to the inevitable.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.


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: Hamlin Garland, Main-Travelled Roads (1891)


  1. Traveling glass! The historical sippy cup. :)

  2. Another fine bunch of definitions, Ron, thanks. You're nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award.

  3. One of my grandfathers used to use "tunket" as in "What'n tunket are you doing down there?"

  4. 'Truck' was also used when you had experience or dealings with a person. "Had truck with him afore."

    1. "Truck" in this sense of the word originally meant to exchange or barter with (OED).

  5. I only knew a couple of these, but, 22 short brought back memories. When I was in high school we bought many boxes of 22 shorts to plink with. They were much cheaper, if I remember correctly, than the long rifle 22s.