Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Old West glossary, no. 34

Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of terms (including names of some forgotten people) 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 Cowboy Dictionary, The Cowboy Encyclopedia, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from Mary Etta Stickney’s Brown of Lost River, a ranch romance set on the Wyoming frontier, and Marie Manning’s Judith of the Plains, about a mixed-race woman in a remote part of Wyoming. Once again, I struck out on a few. If anyone has a definition for “Lothair colt,” “tank-and-sawmill school of drama,” “poppy hat,” or “pepper rag,” leave a comment below.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Aldrich, Thomas Bailey = prominent American poet, novelist, and magazine editor (1836-1907). “I feel as if we had died and our souls were meeting. You know Aldrich’s exquisite lines.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Barbauld, Anna Laetitia = prominent English poet, essayist, and children’s author (1743-1825). “Mrs. Barbauld’s hymn, ‘Flee as a Bird to the Mountain,’ are the words usually sung to the air.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Barmecide = a member of a noble Persian family who, according to a tale in The Arabian Nights, gave a beggar a pretended feast with empty dishes; a meal that looks good but doesn't come up to expectations. “Supper was a mockery to them, a Barmecide feast.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Boadicea = queen of a tribe of Britons who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. “She rode as Boadicea might have ridden to battle; there was not a yielding line in her body.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Bouguereau, La Nuit, 1883
Bouguereau, William-Adolphe = a French painter (1825-1905) of realistic genre paintings using mythological themes and emphasizing the female human body, popular on the walls of 19th-century saloons. “The translucent flesh-tints, pearl-white flushing into pink—‘Bouguereau realized at last,’ as Nannie Wetmore was in the habit of summing up her cousin’s complexion—was as marvelous as ever.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

blench = pallor. “The man in the doorway was tall and lean, and the prison blench upon his face was an unpleasant contrast to the ruddy tan of the faces about the table.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

chassez = in quadrille dancing, a movement of dancers sideways in a straight line, to the right or left. “‘All chaw hay!’ he would blithely cry, when a chassez was in order.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

Class Day = In American colleges and universities, a day of the commencement season on which the senior class celebrates the completion of its course by exercises conducted by the members, such as the reading of the class histories and poem, the delivery of the class oration, the planting of the class ivy, etc. (from Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913). “His first glimpse of her, on Class Day, in a white gown and a hat…had been a vision that stirred in him heroic promptings.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

curvet = a horse’s leaping or frisking motion. “The wherefore of all this dashing horsemanship, this curveting, prancing galloping revival of knightly tourney effects was apparent.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Caricature, François Delsarte, 1861
Delsarte = a style of musical performance, developed by François Delsarte (1811-1871), emphasizing emotional expression and gesture. “This harrowing ballad was repeated with accompanying Delsarte at intervals during the afternoon.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

fix up = make oneself presentable, dress up, smarten up. “Mr. Lovering had not come, as his wife placidly explained, ‘because he did so hate to fix up.’” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

gaiter = a garment similar to leggings, worn to cover or protect the ankle and lower leg. “No slouching garb of exigence and comfort this, but a pretty display of doeskin gaiter, varnished boot, and smart riding-breeches.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

gosh all hemlock = a mile expletive (God Almighty). “‘Gosh all hemlock!’ he exclaimed, lost to any consideration of his words in the wild excitement that possessed him.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

Rembrandt, Haman Disgraced
Haman = a Persian adversary of the Jews in the Bible, hanged for plotting to take up arms against them. “When she, recognizing them, masked though they were, threatened them with the vengeance of the law, they hanged her with her man high as Haman.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Hayoka = the Sioux god of contrariety. “According to the legends, he sat naked and fanned himself in a Dakota blizzard and huddled, shivering, over a fire in the heat of summer. Likewise the Hayoka cried for joy and laughed for sorrow.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Heart and Hand, The = publication of a matrimonial agency by the same name. “She lives back East, and him and her took up their claims in each others affections through a matrimonial paper known as The Heart and Hand.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Hebe = goddess of youth, cupbearer to the gods; a barmaid, waitress. “A Hebe-like creature, blond and pink-cheeked, in a blue-checked apron besmeared with grease and flour, came sulkily into her mother’s presence.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

hen = to act cautiously. “She used to be coming out here ’most every day, just henning around, offering to make the dessert or a salad or something.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

lacking = a fool, a dunce. “It be a hard blow to me to know that my sons are lackings.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

lam = to beat. “Ef he’d been my child, I’d a lammed it out’n him before he’d a seen two.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

logy = slow, lethargic. “Is it that we’re getting on, a little long in the tooth, logy in our movements?” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

McKinley bill = a protective tariff measure passed in Congress in 1890. “If I’m any good at reading brands, she is as self-protective as the McKinley bill.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

mess-box = a storage box for provisions on a chuck wagon. “She found that the tin breakfast service had been washed and returned to the mess-box, the beds had been neatly folded and piled in one of the wagons.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

The Roc's Egg, R. Gifford (1840-1905)
roc’s egg = the egg of a giant mythical bird. “‘I am sure they have not’ said the girl, with a sinking heart, the name to her suggesting nothing more likely than a roc’s egg.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

sangaree = a cold drink of diluted and spiced wine. “Mary could never remember when the need of money to pay the mortgage had not invaded the gentle routine of their home-life, robbing the sangaree of its delicate flavor in the long, sleepy summer afternoons.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

sharp = an expert. “He was talking of it once to a man who was a sharp on things like mesmerism.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

stem-winder = excellent, first-rate. “A stem-winder, as you might say; always right there, up an’ comin’ when you wanted him, the best bronco breaker in Wyoming.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

panorama = unrolling or unfolding stage scenery, creating the illusion of movement across a landscape. “The scrap of view that came within a closer range of vision spun past the car windows like a bit of stage mechanism, a gigantic panorama rotating to simulate a race at breakneck speed.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

paretic = partially or completely paralyzed. “I’ve always tried to lead a good life, and here I am a paretic before I’ve come of age.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Psyche knot
Psyche knot = a way of dressing the hair at the back of the head in imitation of the ancient Greeks; also, “Grecian knot.” “She done her hair like a tied-up horse-tail—my wife called it a Sikey knot—and it stood out a foot from her head.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

rally = ridicule, make fun of. “Warren Rodney made the acquaintance of Sally Tumlin, who rallied him on being a ‘squaw man.’” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

roof tree = the primary beam of a roof, the ridgepole; the roof. “She wore a pink sunbonnet, though the hour was one past sundown, and though she sat beneath her own roof-tree.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

round = a rung of a chair or ladder. “Mrs. Rodney now put a foot on the round of an adjoining chair and shoved it towards Mary Carmichael.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

snuff brush = a stick or brush used in rubbing snuff on teeth or gums. “Mrs. Rodney, after freshening up the snuff-brush from a small, tin box in her lap, put spurs to her rocking-chair, so to speak, and started off at a brisk canter.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

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.

Painting by Elihu Vedder
Vedder, Elihu = an American symbolist painter, illustrator, and poet (1836-1923), best known for his illustrations of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. “The whole dread picture brought before her one of Vedder’s pictures that hung in the shabby old library at home.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains. The Questioner of the Sphynx (right), 1863.

wool-clip = the total quantity of wool shorn in any place or season. “The town—it would be unkind to mention its name—had made merry the night before at the comprehensive invitation of a sheepman who had just disposed of his wool-clip.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Image credits:

Psyche knot, Girls Own Paper and Woman’s Magazine, 1911
"The Roc's Egg,"
 All others, Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson (1905)


  1. Your Old West Glossary is always a delight, Ron. I can't help with the obscure ones this time, but was delighted with "Class Day"--observed in the small reservation town where I grew up--and "gaiter"--still used by cross-country skiers. Have always loved the westerner's use of "sharp"--as in "card sharp","gospel sharp" (for a preacher). Thanks for the posting!

  2. I would have guessed "henning around" meant acting like a woman.

    1. I believe that is supposed to be the connection.

  3. Blench, curvet, gaiter, lam, logey. I've heard these. think I've used one or two of them in stories.

  4. Love these, Ron. And Stan -have heard card sharp, but not gospel sharp. My favorite old expression for a preacher? "Sky pilot."

  5. You should publish a western dictionary (or at least put them all together onto a webpage). These are a delight to explore.

    1. I plan to put them together into a book before too long. Thanks for the encouragement.

  6. "Tank and Sawmill Drama" referred to the type of play in which the heroine always winds up lashed to a log and about to be run through a buzz-saw. This type of melodrama played well in tank-towns which I assume is where the first half of the phrase comes from.

  7. Oops, posted too soon. Lothair was the name of a racehorse but more than that I can't tell you.