Monday, June 4, 2012

Old West glossary, no. 33

Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of terms gleaned 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 Ridgwell Cullum’s The Story of the Foss River Ranch, about the fate of a man who cheats at cards; Mary Etta Stickney’s Brown of Lost River, a ranch romance set on the Wyoming frontier. Once again, I struck out on a few. If anyone has a definition for “cash pappy,” “slant your tongue,” or “crazy door,” leave a comment below.

barker = a pistol. “My barker’s mighty light in the trigger.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

beauty for ashes = biblical reference to Isaiah 61:3, “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes.” “Crowding down from the hills into luxuriant masses by the banks of the stream was a gay riot of wild flowers of every hue, as though, for this brief carnival time of summer, Nature had been minded to give beauty for ashes with mad prodigality.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

blue devils = a fit of depression. “But the other day—how can I explain it?—the blue devils had possession of me.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

bluestone = lowest quality gin or whisky. “This formed the chief refreshment, and, doubtless, the ‘bluestone’ with which its fiery contents were strengthened.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

Rafters with collar ties
breaking cart = a long-shafted two-wheeled cart for breaking horses to single harness. “Once broken to bit and bridle, the young animal was harnessed to the stout breaking cart, in company with a staid old horse or mule.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

church privileges = protections granted to churches limiting intrusion by secular authorities. “You are blasphemous, you unconscionable creature! I lament afresh that we are fifty miles from church privileges.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

collar tie = a board or beam fastened between pairs of rafters in a peaked roof, like the crossbar of the letter A, to prevent the rafter ends from forcing the walls outward. “Next came the disguising of the rafter and ‘collar-ties’ of the building.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

do for = to injure, beat up, murder. “I thought sure Retief was going to do for you when I heard about it.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

Ginger jar
flannel face = loudmouth, braggart, one who talks much to little effect; also “flannel mouth.” “‘Damned scoundrel’ sliden’ from yer flannel face is like a coyote roundin’ on a timber wolf.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

flick = to cut. “A blaze of anger leapt into his keen, flashing eyes. Lablache had flicked him sorely.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

ginger jar = a porcelain container, originating in China, used for spices, as gifts, and decorative objects; used for the deposit of weekly “rent” in a popular novel, The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine (1886) by Francis Richard Stockton. “And I suppose there is no ginger jar on the mantelpiece.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

Hair wreath, 1800s
hair wreath = decorative wreath made from the hair of dead and/or living people. “And I suppose there is a hair wreath and perhaps some worsted flowers in deep frames on the wall.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

horn = a drink. “Then he, too, struggled to his feet, and, with unsteady hand, poured out two stiff ‘horns’ of whisky.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

knee haltering = to restrain a horse by passing a line from the halter or bridle to the knee of a foreleg to permit grazing but prevent free or fast movement. “Will Gold Eagle stand ‘knee-haltering,’ Bill?” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

20th century edition
Lecks and Aleshine = two characters in a popular novel by Francis Richard Stockton, The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine (1886). “‘A which?’ bewilderedly returned the honest gentleman, whose reading had evidently stopped a long way short of the adventures of the ladies Lecks and Aleshine.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

long sleever = large drinking glass. “‘We’re having lively times, John,’ said the doctor, after emptying his ‘long sleever.’” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

navvy = a railway worker; any unskilled laborer. “Mrs. Flannigan, over at the section house, has a lot of navvies boarding with her, besides having the place about knee-deep with kids.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

nine days’ wonder = a novelty that loses its appeal after a few days. “Foss River settled down after its nine days’ wonder. It was astonishing how quickly the affair was forgotten.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

Machine-made Nottingham lace
Nottingham lace = lace from Nottingham, England, the center of the world’s lace industry during the years of the British Empire. “But you know the type—Nottingham lace curtains in the parlour, and ‘God Bless Our Home’ over the mantel!” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

pea on a drum = frantic, uncontrolled movements; also a small object placed atop something large. “He was jolted and bumped about like the proverbial pea on a drum.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

pelt = to hurry. “I ran as hard as I could pelt to the Foss River Ranch.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

redowa = a fast, triple-time dance from Bohemia. “One has only to find a partner and—in the recherché language of the plains—hoof it to the extent of his money’s worth, whether fate happens to have given him a reel or a redowa.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

Red River Jig = a traditional dance of the Canadian Métis. “The old man was tuning it down for the plaintive requirements of the Red River Jig.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

 round on = betray, inform on. “‘Damned scoundrel’ sliden’ from yer flannel face is like a coyote roundin’ on a timber wolf.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

shrammed = shriveled with cold. “He stepped briskly from his house, for he was ‘schrammed’ with cold in his white drill clothing.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

skilly = a thin oatmeal soup or gruel. “If you don’t tell us all you know, in you go to Calford and a diet of skilly’ll be your lot for some time to come.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

Treasure Island, 1911 edition
slippy = agile, nimble, speedy. “If yer don’t move—an’ move mighty slippy—you’ll be dumped headlong into the muck.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

smart as paint = exceedingly smart; a phrase apparently originating with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. “The girl is as smart as paint; at the first inkling of your purpose she’ll curl up—shut up like a rat trap.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

strabismus = a defect of vision in which one eye cannot focus with the other on an object because of imbalance of the eye muscles; a squint. “He was not an imposing personage, this gentleman, being afflicted with an extreme case of strabismus.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

tot = a small glass of alcohol. “John yawned, and poured out a ‘tot’ of whisky for his friend.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

Cowboy and rope
throw twine = to rope, lasso. “The cutting out from the herd of some eighteen or twenty horses for the day’s work, involving much ‘throwing of the twine,’ in cowboy slang, was full of excitement for all concerned.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

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.

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.

victoria = a light four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage with a collapsible hood, seats for two passengers, and an elevated driver's seat in front. “This turnout of Ellery’s, a handsome victoria drawn by four spirited horses, incongruously fine against the grim background of bare plans, was generally regarded as fit subject for good-humoured smiles by his neighbours.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

worsted flowers = wool yarn knitted into the shapes of flowers. “And I suppose there is a hair wreath and perhaps some worsted flowers in deep frames on the wall.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons
Hair wreath, courtesy of The Childrens Museum of Indianapolis

Coming up: Randoph Scott, Thunder of the Plains (1953)

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