Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Old West glossary, no. 61

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, The Dictionary of Victorian Slang, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from Robert Dunn’s The Youngest World and Gertrude Atherton’s Perch of the Devil and Los Cerritos. Some I could not track down are at the bottom of the page.

Julius Wayland
Appeal to Reason = a political newspaper published 1895-1922 by Julius Wayland (1854-1912), supporting the Farmers’ Alliance, the People’s Party, and, after 1901, the Socialist Party in America. “He bought an Appeal to Reason from a stunted boy in a grey sweater.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

bombazine = a twilled fabric made with a silk warp and a worsted weft; the black fabric used for legal gowns or mourning clothing. “In the railroad station, the grey-haired, torpid station-master banged up the ticket window, drew on his bombazine sleevelets.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

box-stall = an enclosure in which a single animal can move around freely. “He sat on the string-piece of the empty pier next the vessel, and, hanging his feet over the water, watched a box-stall jerked up into mid air by the coughing hoist.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

chow-chow = a pickled relish made from a combination of vegetables. “These derelicts stood among the long tables laid out with chow-chow and condensed milk (watered in pitchers), shouting coarse stories to one another.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

chrysoprase = a green gemstone. “She had the green eyes of California—the limpid, translucent green of crysoprase.” Gertrude Atherton, Los Cerritos.

cocotte = a prostitute. “The cocottes were so young and fresh as well as beautiful that to Ora and Ida they looked much like girls of their own class.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

croaker = a whiner or whinger, a pessimist. “Our long tussle on the trail was only a joke to him, and then he’s made a croaker this way.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

flunky / flunkey = a cook, kitchen-hand, or waiter. “‘Waiter? You mean you want to be a flunky,’ he snapped, spitting. ‘D’you belong to the Union?’” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

flyer = a lark, a fling. “She had had her ‘flyer’, and, allowing for social triumphs, returned to Butte to settle down.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.
Foot gong

foot gong = a spherical bell operated by a foot pedal, used on horse carriages and early automobiles. “A whip flecked the bay, and the buggy started up Occidental Avenue to the blare of a foot-gong on the dashboard.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

footwall = in mining, the rock underlying a vein or ore deposit. “Cut across the fault at once and follow it on the footwall side to the east.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Henry George
George, Henry = an American writer, politician, and political economist (1839-1897). “It will be a hundred years before Henry George is recognized as a great man.” Gertrude Atherton, Los Cerritos.

goose = a practical joke. “I guess I don’t like being turned down for once. Goose.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Honiton lace = lace made by descendants of Flemish immigrants in Honiton, Devonshire, England; the lace made for Queen Victoria’s wedding dress. “She stole to the front door and peered through its curtain of Honiton lace.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Honiton lace
in bond = a term applied to the status of merchandise admitted provisionally to a country without payment of duty, to be kept in a bonded warehouse or for shipment to another point where duties will be imposed. “She gave final and minute orders to tailors and dressmakers, instructed them to send the trousseaux in bond directly to Great Falls, Montana.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Lorelei = a siren of German legend who combed her copper hair atop a rock above the Rhine and lured men to their death. “He watched her for a moment as she sat on a box braiding her long fair hair, vaguely recalling the legend of the Lorelei.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Lorelei, c1900
mantle = the incandescent gauze surrounding the flame in a gas lamp. “Minker’s windows defied the darkness of Pike Street with a greenish glare of mantle gas and porcelain tiles.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

parr = a young salmon or trout. “We’ve fished her out down to the last parr, and that means she’ll stay barren till kingdom come.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

peg away = to move off quickly. “She would simply tell me to go back and peg away.” Gertrude Atherton, Los Cerritos.

Prie dieu
prie dieu = a low bench for kneeling. “She prays a great deal and has a beautiful prie-dieu, carved all over.” Gertrude Atherton, Los Cerritos.

pug = a boxer, brawler. “He had drawled of his early days as a barroom pug in Omaha.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

rag = to dance to ragtime music. “She gave several small dinners and a dancing party, devoted to the new excitement of ‘ragging,’ in which no one became more proficient than herself.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

seidel = a beer mug or glass. “Sitting at a table, he ordered a seidel of beer, as the white-robed female orchestra struck up on their dais under artificial palms.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

shirt band = a band of material sewn into a shirt for stiffening or finishing, as a neckband to which the collar is sewn or buttoned. “If you get time, you better show me how you want your shirt-bands let out.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

shoepac / shoepack = a heavy, warm, waterproof laced boot. “One might encounter the pioneers who had built the town, with their wives or women, the ilk of Nick Pelcher and Wilbur Arnold—the idols to whom the multitude in shoepacks and mackinaws must sell their vigour and mortgage their dreams.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

Card players, Cezanne, c1890
solo = a card game in which one player plays against the others in an attempt to win a specified number of tricks. “Except for the four others who played ‘solo’ all day, it was a grizzled, dejected company.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

sowegian = a mildly offensive term for an immigrant from Sweden or Norway. “Not a woman was in sight, except the lean Salvation girls, and they were singing in Swedish, as if Sowegians alone deserved, or needed, saving.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

string-piece = a long, usually horizontal piece of timber for strengthening, connecting, or supporting a framework of a bridge, pier, or other structure. “He sat on the string-piece of the empty pier next the vessel.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

Safety poster
stull = in mining, a timber platform for miners while working or to protect them from falling debris. “When she reached the fault drift she thrust the long point of a candlestick into a stull before turning the corner.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

sure pop = a certainty, an absolute fact. “If yer git a chance at yer with no one to tell the tale they’ll riddle yer, sure pop.” Gertrude Atherton, Los Cerritos.

teredo = a wormlike bivalve mollusk with reduced shells that it uses to drill into wood, causing damage to wooden structures and vessels. “A pile-driver undertook to whack a new trunk of fir replacing one gnawed by teredoes in the wharf he sat on.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

Toque, Modigliani
toque hat = a woman’s small hat without a brim made in any of various soft close-fitting shapes. “She wore a tight brown, tailored jacket with a martin-skin fastened at her throat by a nickel chain, a toque hat with a flowing blue veil, which was lifted.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

tribadist = a lesbian. “Inside they are just one perpetual shriek for the right man to come along—that is all but a few hundred thousand tribadists.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

trimmer = an opportunist, a person who adapts their views to the prevailing political trends for personal advancement. “Though he is in the Gover’ment service with me, I tell you that smart trimmer is looking for anyone’s boost, now he wants the next term as judge.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

The rest more or less stumped me. Anyone with an idea, please feel free to comment below.

blow one’s burners = “Rex, aged nineteen, had served two years for theft in an Oregon reform school, which accounted for his habit of ‘blowing his burners’ with cocaine.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

braced wheel = “You’re right, by God, you’re right. My life on that, by the braced wheel of the Almighty!” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

dummy = “Light streamed from the windows of a great house high on one of San Francisco’s hills. The fog lay thick in the city’s valleys but only touched its crests. Those brave enough to sit on the mist-wreathed dummies glided up the steep hill-sides through white calm seas into a curve of starry dark-blue night.” Gertrude Atherton, Los Cerritos.

lavey = “Hundreds in line, for days and nights, ahead of me at the land office, and it fixed by the capitalists to get them the rich sections and us chunks of lavey desert.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

pulah = “When you lie down to rest in a bed which yields to your body and rests every muscle, do you intensify its luxury by imagining yourself on a filthy pulah mattress, stifling under your low ceiling?” Gertrude Atherton, Los Cerritos.

scoop hat = “She had put on Madge’s scoop hat with its waving green willow-plumes.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

take water = “[of a man who looks capable of putting up a good fight] He’s good’n big, and he don’t look like he’d take water too easy. Guess they wouldn’t enjoy a tussle with him. Hanged if I would.” Gertrude Atherton, Los Cerritos.

Image credits:
Wikimedia Commons
Foot gong,

Coming up: Robert Dunn, The Youngest World (1914)


  1. I've found explanations for two words: Lavey is a type of soil, the top few inches being dark brown gravelly silt loam; beneath which is clay. Used for cattle grazing, but cattle can damage the plant life by compacting the soil when wet. (More than you'd want to know, I suppose).

    Dummies appear to have been conveyances between, but attached to, cable cars in San Francisco. (found some city regulations from the 1890s).

    I would think a braced wheel was on a loaded wagon going up a steep hill, and someone would keep putting a piece of wood or a rock behind the back wheels, but how it combines with God is anyone's guess.

    I loved the foot gong with illustration.

    1. Excellent word sleuthing! "Lavey" sounds right. From the context, I guessed a dummy had something to do with the cable car system in San Francisco, but I couldn't find any source actually defining the term or connecting the two. "Brace" itself is a funny word with numerous unrelated meanings.

  2. A scoop hat is a type of bonnet that looks like a sugar scoop, with a deeply curved front brim.

    I have a vague recollection of "taking water" being used to describe someone backing away from something, but I need to go look for it.

    1. I think you are probably right about scoop hats. Let me know if "taking water" turns up for you.