Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Old West glossary, no. 60


Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of terms and forgotten people gleaned from early western fiction. 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, Cowboy Lingo, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from Vingie Roe’s The Heart of Night Wind, Robert Ames Bennet’s Out of the Depths, and Gertrude Atherton’s Perch of the Devil. One that totally stumped me is at the bottom of the page.


affinity = a person having an attraction for another. “He might meet an affinity; and there’s one of them lyin’ in wait for every man.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Aubusson tapestry
Aubusson tapestry = French tapestry made in the 17th and 18th centuries, with figures against backgrounds of greenery, stylized foliage, plants, and glimpses of towers and towns. “Mark seated himself on the edge of a stiff little sofa covered with faded Aubusson tapestry, and hunched his shoulders.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

bilk = to spoil the expectation of another. “He knows about the contrack an’ he’ll bilk it if he can.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

blue pencil = of news editing, to cut or mark corrections on written copy. “Given an incident he could work it up with an abundance of detail and ‘psychology,’ easily blue-pencilled, and a certain illusion.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

bob-tail = a tugboat used for towing logs. “Wait till yer damned little gasoline bob-tail gets down to th’ water.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

brownie = a young, single man. “Surely you are not counseling that I begin a predatory raid on other women’s husbands, or even on the ‘brownies’?” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Painting, Burne-Jones, 1860
Burne-Jones, Edward = British Pre-Raphaelite artist and designer (1833-1898). “Ora, who like most imaginative people played with the theory of reincarnation, amused herself visioning Ida in Burne-Jones costumes, haunting the chill midnight corridors of a Florentine palace, dagger in hand, or brewing a poisoned bowl.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

by James! = a mild oath. “‘By—James!’ swore Gowan, dropping his guitar and springing up to confront Ashton with deadly menace in his cold eyes.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

coconut / cocoanut = the head. “I guess you’ll find me quick enough with my hands, whatever you think of my cocoanut.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

cup custard = custard baked and served in ceramic or glass cookware. “She even cultivated a taste for tea, which heretofore she had regarded as fit for invalids only, like jellies and cup-custard.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Dinkey engine, steam shovel, c1914
dinkey = a small locomotive. “Cut our best cable two years ago and twice they’ve run the dinkey off the track into the slough.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

double-six = a team of six horses. “Save on the De Smet hill, there was a notable absence of ‘double-sixes’.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

foot-log = a log used as a footbridge. “Siletz was gone, running like a deer, with long, smooth leaps, down the steep drop to the slough, across the foot-log and away to meet the slow-moving men.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

gangue = the commercially valueless material in which ore is found. “The poor ore can’t help itself, any more than the slag and gangue can, and Mark’s not either of those, you bet.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

gin-pole = a rigid pole with a pulley on the end used for the purpose of lifting. “The little loading donkey puffed and tooted, directing its towering gin-pole which picked and chose uncannily among the logs, grappling many-ton timbers with its two drag-hooks, placing them here and there as a deft woman packs a trunk.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

glance = a shiny sulfide ore of lead, copper, or other metal. “‘D’you mean they’ve found copper glance?’ ‘At a depth of sixty feet? Not exactly.’” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

go off the hooks = to die. “I’m not saying you’ll go off the hooks, like some I could mention in your own bunch, but if the man comes along you’ll fall in love all right.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Woman with cigarette holder, 1920s
gold tip = cigarette holder. “They out with their gold tips after lunch, and maybe you think they don’t know how.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

goodness godness = a mild oath. “Luckily a woman don’t have the least trouble findin’ out a man’s weak points, and Greg has a few, than the goodness godness.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

gooseberry = a third party who is not wanted by or feels uncomfortable with the couple. “I won’t, although, believe me, the role of gooseberry is no cinch.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

great white way = a self-indulgent and hedonistic life that leads one astray. “‘Ah, Dear! wasn’t it a splendid thing when he was thrown out of his rut of wastefulness?’ ‘Otherwise known as the primrose path, or the great white way.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

highstrikes = hysterics. “If you don’t get us out of this quick I’ll have high-strikes.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

jaytown = a small town. “You’re different enough from the other men in this jay town.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

lagging = a covering for something either as insulation or protection. “The shaft was inclined, four by eight, and timbered with lagging.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

lawsy = a mild oath expressing surprise, astonishment, or strength of feeling. “‘Jimminy, but your room’s pretty!’ exclaimed Ida. ‘Mine’s pink—but lawsy!” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Horse, near side
near side = the left (i.e. mounting and dismounting) side of a horse. “Actually I didn’t know the off from the nigh side of a hawss!” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

nixey / nixie = no, certainly not. “They’re all right to marry, all things being equal, but to sacrifice your life for, nixie.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

patent = obvious. “It was patent that Mark had an inspiration.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

patent lighter = a device for producing a small flame. “He touched a patent lighter to another cigarette, chose a direction at random, and spurred his pony into a canter.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

permanganate of potash = a chemical compound patented and marketed as Condy’s crystals, a disinfectant. “It’s the best thing there is to cheat rattlers,—just cheap, ordinary permanganate of potash.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

Log drivers, 1922
river-hog = one who drives logs down a river. “You an’ your river-hogs that you pass as loggers! Rotten outfit, ye are!” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

sinker = a sourdough biscuit. “I’d rather eat a wolf or a rustler or even a daring desperado than sinkers and beans, any day.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

snap = a homesteading claim made by a person who proves up on it, gets a patent, and then sells out. “They don’t often come here to live. This here’s a snap.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

squab = a young woman. “It was pre-eminently the night of nights for young folks—brownies and squabs.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

stringer = a mineral veinlet or filament, usually one of a number, occurring in a discontinuous pattern in host rock. “If they did not agree that the vein on the which he had been working, containing a shoot of chalcopyrite six feet wide, and of the highest grade, was the original vein, and the Primo-Apex a mere stringer, or at most a fork from his, he would let the suit go by default.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

take the long trail = to die. “I want to keep my range until the time comes for me to take the long trail.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

timber scaler = a person who measures cut trees to determine the volume and quality of wood to be used for manufacturing. “A timber scaler, sent down by the Portland firm, was constantly in attendance.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

tin cow = canned milk. “On most cattle ranches, the milk comes from ‘tin cows’ and the butter from oleomargarine tubs.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

Volcanic trap rock
trap rock = a dark colored igneous rock of great weight and strength, including basalt and feldspar. “She had rounded the craggy hill on their right and was in sight of a scattered grove of boxelders below a dike of dark colored trap rock that outcropped across the bed of the creek.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

vug = a small cavity in a rock, usually lined with crystals of a different mineral composition than the enclosing rock. “The fragment in his hand was very beautiful, a soft rich shaded green flecked with red; the vugs, or little cells, looked as if lined with deep green velvet.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

white plague = tuberculosis. “The white plague had driven him from New York to this health-giving wilderness.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

yarder = a winch or system of winches powered by an engine and used to haul logs from a stump to a landing or to a skid road. “The yarder came snorting grotesquely down from the dip behind the first ridge.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.


Below is the one I couldn’t figure out. If you have any idea, leave a comment.

P’rox = “I’m crazy about you and always will be. Swear right here you’ll never throw me over, or run around with a P’rox.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.


Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Gertrude Atherton, Los Cerritos (1890)

13 comments:

  1. I remember "by James!" a bit as a kid. Kinda like By Jove maybe?

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    1. "By [fill in the blank]" is a common expletive during the period. Interesting how some, like "by Jove" have survived and many have not.

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  2. I remember hearing the term "great white way" from older relatives... I like it. I think it would work well in a poem.

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    1. It was totally new to me. The origin of the term for Broadway (the only meaning I've ever known) dates back to the introduction of electricity along that thoroughfare in NYC.

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  3. P'rox -- This is a real shot in the dark but is the speaker a female? She could be telling someone not to start hankering for a peroxide blonde.

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    1. My guess, too, but I don't know how early peroxide was used for hair coloring.

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    2. I've seen references to a peroxide wash for hair in pre-WWI "society" novels.

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  4. I agree with Shay about P'rox being a peroxided blonde. I think Atherton used her own spelling. The mineral terms are really interesting. It indicates to me that the authors actually did research and wanted to get it right. Thanks for such an interesting blog.

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    1. Mining was a popular topic for fiction, so there seems to have been a felt need for accuracy.

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  5. I know bilk in a very different sense. I have heard the term sinker used this way. I like Vug, gonna use that one.

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    1. I find words often with meanings that have parted company with current usage at some time in the past and are now obsolete. I felt that way about "bilk."

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  6. bombazine. I've heard that but had forgotten I knew it. I must have read it in an old western as well.

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