Monday, July 4, 2011

Old West glossary, no. 14

Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of frontier terms garnered from early western writing. Definitions were discovered in various online dictionaries, as well as searches in Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Dictionary of the American West, The New Encyclopedia of the American West, The Cowboy Dictionary, The Cowboy Encyclopedia, The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, The Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from turn-of-the-century novels and stories I’ve been reading. Once again I struck out on a few. If anybody knows the Old West meaning of “Lonesome Willies” or “merling,” leave a comment.

best bib and tucker = best clothes; originally women’s garments, bib and lace worn over the bodice. “She’d got herself dusted off by then and her best bib and tucker on.” William R. Lighton, Uncle Mac’s Nebrasky. 

blue-john; photo, Natalia A. McKenzie
blue-john = a blue or purple fibrous variety of fluorspar occurring only in Derbyshire: used for vases and other ornamentation. “It amounted almost to defeat, it seemed, looking at it in the blue-john light of that cold, harsh morning.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.

catch a tartar = to lay hold of, or encounter, a person who proves too strong for the assailant. “They had not noticed me and they proceeded to hold up the agent in true western style, but that they had caught a tartar was evidenced by the rattle of the agent's artillery.” Nat Love, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love. 

Beeman's gum, 1897
chewing wax = chewing gum. “I’m agoin’ to stick to this well like chawin’ wax to a cheer.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.

cod = to tease, hoax. “I thought he was coddin’ me, but I didn’t want to let on to him I didn’t know any better.” William R. Lighton, Uncle Mac’s Nebrasky.

corn pone = a type of bread made from a thick cornmeal dough and baked in an iron pan over an open fire. “He resumed his cooking,  moving his coffee pot from the coals, turning his corn pone out on the palm of his hand, and blowing the ahses from its crust.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight. 


Cornbread; photo, Douglas P. Perk
crib = a house or other living place (US black); more general usage: a saloon, gambling den, or whorehouse. “After a few days rest with the boys, resting up, I made tracks in the direction of my own crib in Arizona.” Nat Love, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love.

dang my melt = literally, damn me; dang me (from melt = spleen). “Dang my melt if I can see how them wild-catters can keep on takin’ money from folks.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.

electrolier = a fixture, usually hanging from the ceiling, for holding electric lamps; analogous to chandelier, from which it was formed. “Society’s gradations, markings and distinctions, were measured by the number of electric bulbs in a merchant’s window, the size of the gaudy ‘electrolier’ on the table in his newly-plastered dining room.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight. 

Electrolier, 1910
fix = food to prepare for a meal (cf. fixings). “Come over and have a cup of coffee with me this mornin’; your commissary looks to be out of fix.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.

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.

get up on one’s ear = run off and do something stupid. “The tribes had all been pawin’ up the dirt that summer, more-less, and it aggravated him. When he heerd this last story, he got right up on his ear.” William R. Lighton, Uncle Mac’s Nebrasky.

herring pond = the North Atlantic. “This opportunity we improved by getting acquainted and fraternizing with the cow boys of one of the oldest cattle countries this side of the herring pond – Old Mexico.” Nat Love, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love.

katy = hat (also kady, kadi). “I take off my katy, and I apologise to you.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight. 

Hereford steer, drawing by Jomegat
long yearlings = steers between the ages of two and three years; short yearlings were between one and two years. “On other occasions the herd would consist of a certain kind, such as long yearlings, short yearlings, tail end and scabs.” Nat Love, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love.

low watch = the hours after midnight for riding guard on the herd; upper watch were the hours before midnight. “So the low watch turned in to rest until midnight, when they were to relieve the upper watch, in whose hands the safety of the camp was placed till that time.” Nat Love, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love. 

Extracting pulque, Mexico, 1904
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.

rack = to ride. “Well, you hitch up and rack out with part of the machinery, so you’ll have an alibi.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.

scabs = cattle under a year old. “On other occasions the herd would consist of a certain kind, such as long yearlings, short yearlings, tail end and scabs.” Nat Love, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love.

Well-shooters with nitroglycerine

soup = nitroglycerine. “And to think of it being so obliging as to come in with a head like that while I was tearing around on my fruitless hunt for ‘soup’!” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.

well-shooter = detonator of explosives in oil wells to start or renew a flow of oil. “A three-gallon can of nitro-glycerine which he let slip out of his hands one day, while giving a well-shooter a hand, had removed him at once from the worries and ambitions of his kind.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.

Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Rancho Notorious (1952)

6 comments:

  1. Corn Pone. That brought back memories. I love this stuff.

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  2. We used to chew wax as a kid. My mother used it for sealing canning jars.

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  3. "Caught a tartar" reminds me of the scene in Hondo where the young lieutenant tells the story he learned at West Point...I'll bet that's where the expression originated.

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  4. Charles, big fan of cornbread, too, but never grew up with that term for it.

    Oscar, researching this term I came across a turn of the century court case regarding alleged toxic effect of chewing wax (paraffin); I remember it from the old canning days, too.

    Elisabeth, now I have to watch HONDO.

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  5. Best bib and tucker - My grandfather used that one.

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