Monday, March 11, 2013

Old West glossary quiz

Montana cowboys, c1910
Not a quiz exactly. Just another set of forgotten terms gleaned from early western fiction. These are from Robert Alexander Wason’s cowboy novel, Happy Hawkins, which is peppered with odd expressions. A search of the usual references turned up hardly a glimmer of illumination. Readers of the BITS glossaries are free to hazard their best guesses in the comments below.

blotchy = “He was no account to work, he couldn’t even learn to tie a knot; but he talked kin’ o’ blotchy, an’ it was divertin’ to listen to him.”

breedy = “Jessamie was breedy all right, but compared to Barbie, she looked like a six o’ suit alongside the queen o’ trumps.”

brewer = “As soon as the noose caught the tip o’ the tongue I yanked back on the brewer until he must ’a’ thought his lower jaw had dissolved parntership.”

bullfrog vest = “They even got me into a long-tailed coat an’ a bullfrog vest.”

copper-toed boots = “I felt like a boy with copper-toed boots and a toy balloon.”

didoes = “I bought a silver trimmed bridle n’ some Mexican didoes.”

eye-winker = “When it came to ridin’ a bucker or shootin’ off an eye-winker or expessin’ herself free an’ frank, she didn’t have to import no testimony to prove ’at she was his daughter.”

get someone’s tag = “He was the most frolicsome goat I ever see, an’ he about got my tag before I heard him comin’.”

gold sweater = “That car had been loaded with a group o’ the real, genuine gold-sweaters, an’ they entered into a fierce competition to see which could load me down with the finest watch an’ load me up with the finest champagne.”

grippy = “I had been lookin’ for a six-footer with bulgy muscles an’ a grippy jaw. This pink-cheeked boy didn’t look like no athlete to me.”

gritchety = [of a phantom] “The whiskers was one long waverin’, ghastly flame, an’ the horns was two others. The’ was a blue gritchety sort o’ smoke curlin’ up around the face.”

jerk lightning = “I glanced at Dick; an’ talk about jerk-lightnin’! Well, I can’t see yet what kept Piker from gettin’ scorched.”

joint oil = “He was allus friendly with me, but he didn’t overdo it, an’ things went along smooth as joint oil.”

kazoo = “The storm that was presently kazooin’ along was fierce an’ horrible.”

link = “The pinto let out a couple of links as cheerful as a rainbow, an’ I rode at his cinch.”

number nine = [to a cook] “You’re sure of a number nine crown an’ a spotless robe jest fer this one meal.”

own up = [of a horse] “The old bald-face was whipcord an’ steel; but he looked purty near ready to own up.”

put on ruffles = “When Thanksgivin’ hove in sight the ol’ man dug up a bottle o’ whiskey, an’ put on a few ruffles to sort o’ stiffen up his back.”

run in oil: “If things hadn’t run in oil, I’d a stayed right along, I reckon; but it got so’ at the’ wasn’t a hitch from week to week, an’ I couldn’t stand it.”

sizey = “Ol’ Jabez Judson was purty tol’able sizey when you came to fence him in.”

squeezy = “The stranger took out a healthy lookin’ stack o’ gold, Dick an’ Jabez did the same, an’ my little squad o’ yella fellers looked purty tol’able squeezy.”

string haltered = “He always walked like a hoss ’at was string-haltered in all four legs.”

toe the scratch = “Barbie was about the palest lookin’ bride ’at ever got ready to toe the scratch, I reckon.”

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: The Sundowners (1960)


  1. You are doing all of us western writers a service with these posts, Ron. "Got my tag." Like that.

  2. Well, I've got two "fer sartin."

    Copper-toed boots. Children’s boots, particularly boys, often had the toes reinforced with copper to make them last longer. I seem to remember Almanzo Wilder in "Farmer Boy" had copper-toed boots.

    Didoes. Fancy shapes. Elizabethan term, I believe (had a fire chief verbally confuse them with dildoes, once. It took a while before we all stopped laughing).

    "Got my tag," now...could that be a reference to ear-tagging a steer, ie, identification?

    1. You and another reader have explained the term "copper toed shoes" as just what it says. I'd never heard of them before, but apparently they were much to be desired by boys at one time.

    2. Well, barefoot would have been the norm for a lot of kids back then. Wearing your copper-toed boots meant you were going someplace special.

  3. Interesting that you really don't have to know the words to understand them from context - certainly colorful. I really like eye-winker for a gun. String-haltered usually referred to a rope tied from the horse halter to a front leg, keeping the head down, so the horse could graze, but not wander off very fast.

    1. I think you could be right about "string-haltered," Karen, thanks.