Monday, September 19, 2011

Old West glossary, no. 20

Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of terms garnered from early western novels. 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 novels by Harold Bindloss and Hugh Pendexter, about a rancher in British Columbia and a world-travelling showman. Once again I struck out on a few. If anybody knows the meaning of  “pleasuroid,” “gallery god,” or “toss up grapevines,” leave a comment. Images today are from old Fourth Readers (defined below).

Alice-blue = a pale tint of azure favored by Teddy Roosevelt’s daugher, Alice. “Now the average peon, after absorbing all the visible supply of aguardiente, will hunt all over the map for the most outre place in which to sleep off his Alice-blue rabbits.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith. 

big casino = an idea or asset expected to be a big winner. “Hiram fractured his face with another smile, and I instinctively knew he had big casino.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

boodle = corrupt politician. “How I wish we were back there living in Christian fraternity with Mike O’Daffy, the boodle alderman.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

brace game = any gambling game in which there is concealed cheating. “This is a brace game and we play no favorites.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

brûlée = a burned-over area of forest. “It was dark when they came out of the brûlée and pitched camp amidst the boulders beside a lonely lake.” Harold Bindloss, Alton of Somasco.

budget = a leather container. “Deringham glanced through his budget, and his face changed a little.” Harold Bindloss, Alton of Somasco. 

castor = a hat. “That was the only time Tib ever shied his castor into a ring.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

circus type
= a display font with circus poster features. “He invented names of men and even States, and at the wind-up proclaimed in circus type that England was about to declare war against the North.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

copper = to bet against (a term from faro). “If we’d asked for potatoes they would have coppered us to lose, I reckon.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith. 

Daniel come to judgment = someone who makes a wise judgment about something that has previously proven difficult to resolve. “When it came to doing the Daniel-arrived-at-judgment act, he had Blackstone and all the other calf-bound antiques begging for mercy.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

deadhead = receiving services without paying. “We let them in for what they had, except the alcalde, who entered deadhead.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

devil’s club = a large forest shrub noted for its large leaves and woody stems covered in brittle spines. “His breath gave out as they floundered into fern-choked forest which was further garnished with the horrible devil’s club.” Harold Bindloss, Alton of Somasco. 

diligence = a stagecoach. “We sailed in November from ’Frisco, bound for San José de Guatemala. From there we were to take diligences to the capital.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith. 

Fourth Reader = a textbook of instructive readings for elementary school students. “Then came a few stanzas about his lost youth, and ‘Oft in the Stilly Night,’ and other Fourth Reader stunts.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

foozle = a miss, a blunder. “The chief rattled off a few eeny-meeny-miney-mo sentiments to his god and again swung back his club for another foozle.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

highbinder = a thug. “I told Tib it was bad enough to get chummy with various disagreeable forms of deaths in just trying to catch wild life for a show, without skiving our margin down another degree by inviting the acquaintance of that highbinder.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith. 

joss = an idol, figure of worship. “At that moment we completely filled in the foreground, middle distance, and background of all their joss dreams.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

Marlin rifle = a shoulder arm developed by John Marlin of New Haven, Connecticut, in the 1890s. “Seaforth was at the head of the stairway with a pack upon his back, and the barrel of a Marlin rifle sloped across his shoulders.” Harold Bindloss, Alton of Somasco.

mill = a fight, prizefight. “Dear, dear! what a mill it was, and neither of ’em wore the American flag or talked into phonographs!” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

pink tea = a formal tea or social occasion. “Tiberius Smith has never been eaten yet and doesn’t intend now to contribute himself for a pink tea.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith. 

plunger = a reckless gambler. “And the chief was the biggest plunger of all.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

pug = a prizefighter, boxer; one who relies more on savagery than skill. “And he, despite the keen air, had been prompted by some New Bedford corpuscle to strip to the waist, quite in the approved pug style.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

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.

reasty = covered with a kind of rust and having a rancid taste; applied to dried meat. “All his guests were expected to partake of reasty pork, potatoes, flapjacks, green tea and fruits at the same table.” Harold Bindloss, Alton of Somasco. 

riffle = to shuffle cards. “He riffled the pasteboards in a manner that caused his owner to pat himself and eject a few gutturals of admiration.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

rightabout = the opposite direction. “His firm gaze sent my timid orbs to the right-about.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

Rollo books = juvenile fiction for boys, written by American author Jacob Abbott (1803-1879). “The respect for gray hairs, I’ve noticed, is not as strong to-day as it was in the Rollo books.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith

sass = fresh or preserved vegetables or fruit eaten as part of a meal or a relish; sauce. “The authorities decided to leave it alone to market its own garden sass.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

Scrubine = a soap used for cleaning and scouring. “Tib’s way was to make virtue so attractive that, like Scrubine and other washing confections, you simply had to have it to be happy.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith. 

seizings = lashings used to bind together two ropes, two parts of the same rope, or rope and another object. “Have the pack and seizings handy, Charley.” Harold Bindloss, Alton of Somasco.

shako = a tall, cylindrical military cap, usually with a peak (British) or visor (American) and sometimes tapered at the top. “They must be lofty enough to do this without recourse to high-heeled boots and two-foot shakos.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

shy = to throw, fling something carelessly or casually. “One, their chief, even as he howled in apprehension, shied a bone-tipped spear up the bluff.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

skive = shave, pare, trim. “I told Tib it was bad enough to get chummy with various disagreeable forms of deaths in just trying to catch wild life for a show, without skiving our margin down another degree by inviting the acquaintance of that highbinder.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith. 

spirit lamp = a lamp that burns alcohol or other liquid fuel. “Miss Deringham busied herself with a spirit lamp, and Alton watched her with a little glint in his eyes.” Harold Bindloss, Alton of Somasco. 

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.

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.

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. 

wapiti = Indian word for elk. “There were survey maps, tassels of oats, and a great Wapiti head upon the wall.” Harold Bindloss, Alton of Somasco.

Image credits:

Illustrations from the Appleton Fourth Reader, 1878, and the Buckwalter Fourth Reader, 1908

Coming up: Death of a Gunfighter (1969)


  1. Pink tea and spirit lamp I've heard, the first one I know in an Robert E. Howard story.

  2. We have a mob kind of place near us called Boodles. Now I understand its name.

  3. Fascinating! I'd only heard about 'castor' and 'diligence' before.