Friday, August 3, 2012

Old West glossary, no. 39

Montana cowboys, c1910
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 Marguerite Merington’s Scarlett of the Mounted, about prospectors and law enforcement in the Klondike, and Frederick Thickstun Clark’s In the Valley of Havilah, about the fortunes of an itinerant family in the California gold fields. Once again, I struck out on a few. If anyone has a definition for “luck-slice,” “get a streak on,” “liver exterminator,” “taffy on a shoestring,” or “make it snow,” leave a comment below.

balmy on the crumpet = insane, demented, eccentric. “Balmy on the crumpet. Bats in his belfry. Qualifying for Queer Street. Plumb crazy. Poor old Lucky!” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

beat = an outstanding person or thing. “Ma, did ye ever see the beat? ’N’ a saw-hoss ’n’ a axe, ’n’—’n’ everything!” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

Belle Mahone, cover
“Bell Mahone” = sentimental ballad by J. H. McNaughton, published 1867. “I dreamt I was dressed up beautiful in a ruffled gown ’n’ hoops ’n’ was a stan’in’ on a platform singin’ Sweet Belle Mahone like a bird in a tree.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

bouncer = something exceptionally large of its kind. “Ain’t she a strapper? Ain’t she a bouncer?” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

cheechako = Chinook jargon for newcomer in the mining districts of northwestern North America. “Now who’s this chee-charka coming up the trail?” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

cheek = to address in an impudent or insolent manner. “I kin cheek yer now I’m goin’ ter be hanged by U. S. law!” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

cheese-headed = brainless, stupid. “Seems to me any parrotic, cheese-headed fool might a-seen he wan’t ’ere a hour ago.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

cove = a fellow, chap. “He’s a lazy old cove, dad is.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

fancy woman = a kept mistress, a man’s lover. “The fancy-women who flock wherever the nuggets are thickest, now segregate themselves in a secluded quarter of the township.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

flax around = bestir oneself. “Ye’d a flaxed around’ ’n’ kep’ healthy—that’s what’s kep’ me a-goin’ all these years.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

flop a lip over = to eat, taste. “The best bread ye ever flopped a lip over.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

Flycatcher
flycatcher = an insect-eating songbird. “There was a dead silence, broken only by the fly-catcher’s mocking refrain.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

forninst = opposite to, facing; alongside. “Chilkat Jo, man, look what devil’s work is going on forninst ye! Can’t ye say the word to stop it?” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

forty ways from the jack = in every way possible. “He’s the only man ever got me skinned forty ways from the Jack.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

gad = a goad; point or stick used for driving draught animals. “He poked ’er in the ribs with the butt o’ his gad.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

go bail = to be absolutely certain. “They’s lots o’ folks ’t can easier drop a tear as a penny, but you ain’t that sort, I’ll go bail to say.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

gospel mill = a church. “Nick rubbed astonished eyes. ‘By gum, a Gospel-mill!’ ‘Aye, and filled to overflowing every Sabbath, Nicholas,’ proudly stated good Maclane.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

Hetty Green, c1905
Green, Hetty = an American businesswoman (1834-1916), remarkable for her frugality during the Gilded Age, as well as for being the first American woman to make a substantial impact on Wall Street. “He claims he owns an antimony proposition that if developed ull make J. Peerpunt Morgan take a back seat and Hetty Green look like thirty cents.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

griping = clutching tightly. “Maud Eliza, certain that the battle was about to be renewed, caught her breath in a sort of ecstasy, then threw her dingy apron over her head and relapsed into griping convulsions of unrestrained giggles.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

Hannah = euphemism for the deity; used in various mild oaths, e.g. so help me Hannah. “How in the name o’ Hanner they manage to keep so fat, I can’t see.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

helve = a handle of a tool or weapon. “Leaning the head of his ax against a rock while he braced his elbow against the helve and looked around him.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

jigger = a gadget, small mechanical contrivance. “Is this ’ere jigger in the pipe a damper?” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

kick up = a dance, a party. “Lor’ won’t we have a kick-up here all by ourselves!” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

kit and posse = the lot, the whole thing. “I’ve been too good to the hull kit ’n’ possy o’ ye.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

lay = a share in a venture. “You must get employment on a lay—that is, you must induce some one to let you help work his claim on shares.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

Massic wine = a wine much praised in classical times from Campania, Italy. “The sunshine affects you like Roman goblets of Massic wine.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

oh-be-joyful = liquor. “He paid two bits at the last tavern for his finger of the oh-be-joyful.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

omadhaun = fool, simpleton, idiot (Irish). “Wid a felly like himself, that dhrunk or sober is aqually an omadhaun, phwat the divvle is the differ?” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

peeling = a scolding. “What a peelin’ ye did give ’im. It made my hair pull to hear ye!” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

plunk = a dollar. “You stake yer bottom plunk on it, d’ye see?” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

Queer Street = any difficult situation. “Balmy on the crumpet. Bats in his belfry. Qualifying for Queer Street. Plumb crazy. Poor old Lucky!” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

rating = a scolding. “Could she really have given Hulse a rating for such a trifle as that?” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

rill = to flow through. “A sudden hope rilled him.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

rubber = to look around. “Well, I s’pose the game is ter lay low, rubber round till we locate the claim, and jump it.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

sawney = a fool. “Lor’, I’ve heerd tell o’ their sayin’s, sometimes, ’n’ seems to me like they mus’ be awful sawneys.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

Settlement house children, 1914
settlement = an establishment in a poor part of a large city lived in by people engaged or interested in social work or reform. “I spend a week every Lent in a Settlement, and we came up here to do good.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

sonsy = plump, buxom, comely; cheerful, good-natured (Scot, Irish). “Sarah is nae bonny, but she micht be sonsy and of a savin’ disposeetion.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

spit on your money at new moon = a superstition, believed to bring good luck. “The mere mention of it brings better fortin’ than touchin’ a hunchback, or spittin’ on your money at new moon.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

square-toed = old-fashioned, formal, prim. “When I got anything to say, I jes’ march up square-toed ’n say it—that’s me!” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

strapper = a big, strong person; a notably hard worker. “Man alive, jes’ look at that air gal’s shape! Ain’t she a strapper?” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

tires = clothes, attire. “Men and women with wrinkles in their tires whose smoothing out must be the work of divine hands.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

top boot = a high boot usually having its upper part made of a different material or with leather of a contrasting color or texture. “The shaggy picturesqueness of the prospectors in colored flannel shirts, top boots and corduroys, with hands ever on gun or pistol, their odd phrase and lurid expletive, touched the silly streak of romanticism in her.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

Advertisement, Waterbury watches
touch a hunchback = a superstition, believed to bring good luck. “The mere mention of it brings better fortin’ than touchin’ a hunchback.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

turkey = to gather around, follow, move about. “How the fellers used to come a-turkeyin’ around after me in them days!” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

Waterbury watch = an inexpensive pocket watch produced 1880s-1890s by the Waterbury Watch Company in Connecticut; often given free with purchase of cheaply made clothing and other products, thus associated with shoddy workmanship. “Ye can wind up me affairs and welcome if ye’ll take the time. They’re just the Waterbury watch inside me pocket.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

windmill = emitter of wind. “Naw! Only some blasted holy windmill come for to save our souls.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

Image credits:
Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville (1897)


5 comments:

  1. There sure were a bunch of these old words and sayings, colloquialisms, among the various groups and types. Thanks.

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  2. I'm very fond of 'flop a lip over'

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  3. I have been enjoying "Old West glossary," Ron, and it's really going good at No.39. A novel idea. I particularly liked "spit on your money at new moon" which, had I not read what it means, could refer to anything.

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  4. Several of the Merington ones sound very English—I've seen them in British-authored books too. A lot of the time the phrase "in Queer Street" meant in financial trouble.

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