Monday, July 16, 2012

Old West glossary, no. 37

Here’s another set of terms gleaned from early western stories. 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, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from William De Vere’s collection of poems, Jim Marshall's New Pianner, about mining camps and other western topics, and Herman Whitaker’s The Settler, about a homegrown tycoon on the plains of Manitoba. Once again, I struck out on a few. If anyone has a definition for “two-dealer,” “kerbase,” “Jack box,” “tye camp,” “long-geared,” or “crown a roll,” leave a comment below.

ace in the door = in poker, the ace appearing as the first card turned face up. “It was called by Higgins, who dealt once more, / When the Cherokee got ‘an ace in the door.’” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

all hunk = satisfactory, fine. “We’d bin up all night in the dance hall, / An’ closed up the shanty all hunk.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

big bug = an important person, dignitary. “He walked into the door of the hall, / An’ saw all the big bugs dressed up for the ball.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

blow one’s stuff = squander money. “He could play two deuces pat at bluff, / Could ‘crack a bottle,’ or ‘blow his stuff.’” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

call the turn = to predict accurately. “That either they or I can learn / A sinner how to call the turn.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

check = a counter, token, chip. “He found he had only one red check, when the game closed.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

clawhammer = a tailcoat. “Rolled home in the morning light, / With crumpled tie and torn clawhammer.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

cold deck = a prepared deck of cards. “The Colonel, in shuffling, slipped the deck through / And the Judge cut a cold one instead.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

con = to study, learn by heart, peruse, scan. “Martin Luther, saith the legend, / Seated in his study grim, / Conning some old Biblic story / When Old Nick appeared to him.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

Concord type coach, c1869
Concord Coach = a stagecoach developed in Concord, New Hampshire, and widely used in the Old West; the coach body rested on bull hide strips instead of steel springs. “The old mining camp reached by the Concord coach or the ‘Freighter’ is fast passing away.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

cutter = a light horse-drawn sleigh. “As the cutter sped swiftly over the first mile, she chatted freely, without thought of danger.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

deadfall = a rough saloon. “Beware the pine tree’s withered branch, / Beware a ‘deadfall’, called Chalk Ranch.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

fly = smart, sharp, aware. “Once an ole sport, / Of the right sort— / Daniels, by name, / Fly ’n dead game.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

Hell’s half acre = a disreputable area or place, a low-class dancehall or bar. “In fell the roof with a crash, / That sounded as if ‘Hell’s half acre’ / Had tumbled upon us kermash.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

katzenjammer = a hangover. “Woke up next day with a katzenjammer.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

kick = a pocket. “Your overcoat ‘hocked,’ not a cent in your ‘kick,’ / And ‘beautiful snow’ till you can’t see a brick.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

kicking strap = a device worn by a horse to prevent it from lifting its hind-quarters to either kick or buck. “His mate, a rat-tailed mare, equally big, differed only in the insignia of wickedness, wearing a kicking-strap in harness, a log chain in the stable.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

knock = to make a good impression. “Just one word more, and that’s what knocks, / There’s always stuff in the parson’s box.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

lookout = the person who supervises betting at faro. “While the ‘lookout’ lazily lolled in his chair, / And his cigarette smoke melted into the air.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

macer = swindler, thief, villain. “Gamblers, miners, suckers, marks, / Spieler, macers, bunco sharks.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

Old McBrayer = Kentucky sour mash whiskey, originated by William Harrison McBrayer in the 1840s. “After each had filled his glass with ‘Old Mcbrayer Booze,’ / We drank to wives and children and those little busted shoes.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

over the river = comic rendering of au revoir. “The kid hollered ‘over the river’, and ducked for the first mining camp.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

pipe off = watch, notice, look at. “His hat was slouched, he’d one cock eye, / That ‘piped off’ every passer-by.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

pole = a long tapering wooden shaft fitted to the front of a cart, carriage, or other conveyance and attached by a yoke or collar to the draught animals. “She heard only the pole and harness jigging a merry accompaniment to the beat of quick feet, whirring song of swift wheels.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

Pommery Sec, a toast to the departed
Pommery Sec = a French champagne introduced to America in 1872 by a New York City wine importer, Charles Graef. “From each bottle knock the neck, / Fill each glass with Pommery Sec.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

probationer = a person in training for the ministry or for the teaching or nursing profession. “News drifted into the post-office that Ruth was to be married to the Probationer, the young minister who preached Morrill’s funeral sermon.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

put in = to pass or spend the time doing something. “He declined Murchison’s invitation to ‘put in,’ and rode on.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

Red River cart, 1887
Red River cart = a strong two-wheeled cart formerly used on the Canadian prairies. “Just before they came to the valley Carter dashed around the Red River cart of a Cree squaw.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

rhodomontade = vain and empty boasting. “We’d list while the parson preached and prayed, / For he didn’t give cant or rhodomontade.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

right smart = considerable; noteworthy; quickly. “Keep a right smart distance from men like me.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

rock = a dollar. “And we dealt and played and put up our rocks, / And we nailed up a thing called the parson’s box.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

Rooney, Pat = a popular 19th-century vaudeville entertainer. “His calls of late, it seems, / Are like Pat Rooney’s serial tales, / Quite ‘few and far between.’” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

Saratoga trunk = a large traveling trunk usually with a rounded top. “Since he stopped getting drunk, / He’s saved up all his money for a Saratoga trunk.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

shindy = a noisy party, shindig. “He got a blow-out and shindy, and everything went off slam bang.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

show shop = a place of exhibition, a theatre. “It was thar, in their ‘show shop’ one Sunday, that I heard a quaint sermon begun.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

skunk = to defeat, get the better of. “All of Sprague’s boys an’ his gals had some spunk / an’ he bragged that none on ’em nobody could skunk.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

snoozer = a person. “They played the thing up to the limit, and took in each snoozer and bloke.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

spavined = lame, maimed. “‘The critter,’ Carter said, ‘is blind, spavined, sweenied, and old enough to homestead.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

spieler = gambler. “Gamblers, miners, suckers, marks, / Spieler, macers, bunco sharks.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

swart = dark colored, swarthy. “Fleecy thunder-heads were slowly heaving up from behind the swart spruce forest.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

sweenied = a condition of horses; suffering from atrophy of the shoulder muscles. “‘The critter,’ Carter said, ‘is blind, spavined, sweenied, and old enough to homestead.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

tackle = have a talk with. “It occurred to the kid that he’d tackle the old man for his little bit.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

thills = the poles or shafts of a wagon or cart. “They were in to the hubs, the thills; then the green waters licked up through the buck-board staves.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

timber = personal quality or character. “She had moods when his simple foolishness was as unbearable as her own frivolity—dangerous moods for a woman of her light timber.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

“Tim Toolan” = a song popular about an Irishman at the turn of the last century. “’Twould make you laugh when Kelly sang, the ‘songs my mammy sang,’ / Or the song about ‘Tim Toolan,’ when he was an alderman.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

tin = money, silver. “What did yer do with all yer tin? Ya-s, blew every cent of it in.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

webfeet/webfooters = residents of Oregon and the rainy Pacific Northwest. “At last I’ve fetched up with the ‘Webfeet’ way down here on old Puget Sound.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

Image credits:
Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Kirk Douglas, The Indian Fighter (1955)

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for unusual words and terms.

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  2. There are so many I don't know! btw, I didn't know we both had a Pgh connection--I was there in the late 80s, working on my Masters.

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  3. I've heard clawhammer strangely enough. And I've used Skunked myself.

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  4. I can rarely predict a meaning. What a change in language since then.

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  5. once again only a few I knew - good job again

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