Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Old West glossary, no. 63

Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of obsolete and forgotten terms 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 Marion Reid-Girardot’s Steve of the Bar-G Ranch and James B. Hendryx’s The Promise. Some I could not track down are at the bottom of the page.

against = before. “Ag’in’ spring you’ll know a little somethin’ about logs.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

air-tight = a wood-burning stove designed for efficient and controlled fuel use with stable heating and cooking temperatures. “He called one of the men from the cook-shack and bade him build a fire in the little air-tight.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

bateau = a flat-bottomed riverboat. “The men in the bateau looked, and there, almost in the middle of the stream, was the greener leaping from log to log.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

bird’s eye = a small, circular imperfection found most often in maple;
Bird's eye maple tabletop
heavily favored by professional woodworkers for its unique beauty. “It required three days of hard labor to remove the fifty-two bird’s-eye maple logs to a position of safety.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

Bois-Brûlés = a sub-tribe of the Dakota Indians, found in Manitoba near the Red River. “Long after, from the lips of a passing Bois brûlé, she heard the story of Pierre’s death.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

cat = to vomit. “I do not believe these people ever take a bawth. I’ll have to chuck it or I’ll cat.” Marion Reid-Girardot, Steve of the Bar-G Ranch.

cellaret = a case for holding wine bottles and decanters, often built as part of a sideboard. “He crossed to the table and, springing the silver catch of a tiny door, cunningly empaneled in the wall, selected from the cellaret a long-necked, cut-glass decanter.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

Chicago burner = a hanging lamp. “Above this table six huge ‘Chicago burners’ lighted the interior.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

chink = to fill up gaps or spaces, such as in a log wall. “At length he got them into the stable, chinked the broken feed-boxes as best he could, and removed the bridles.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

chuck it = to give up. “I do not believe these people ever take a bawth. I’ll have to chuck it or I’ll cat.” Marion Reid-Girardot, Steve of the Bar-G Ranch.

crab = to spoil, upset, ruin. “Moncrossen is afraid I will crab his bird’s-eye game—and I will, too, when the proper time comes.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

cutty pipe = a short-stemmed tobacco pipe. “In the doorway an old man, with a short cutty-pipe between his lips, leaned upon a crutch and surveyed the sky with weatherwise eyes.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

dacoit = armed robber, murderous highwayman. “Ye c’n no more kape a McKim from foightin’ thin ye c’n kape a dacoit from staylin.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

doughgod = a logger’s term for bread. “’Tis a foine va-acation ye’re havin’ playin’ nurse fer a pinched toe, an’ me tearin’ out th’ bone fer to git out th’ logs on salt-horse an’ dough-gods ’t w’d sink a battle-ship.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

enter the lists = to accept a challenge. “And loving her, he set her high upon a pedestal and entered the lists with all the ardor of his being.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

fade = to put at a disadvantage. “‘Twas a foight av his own pickin’, an’ he knows ye’ve got him faded.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

frisk = to rob or steal. “They frisked Joe Manning fer sixty bucks last year. I seen ’em do it.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

gillon = a day too stormy for loggers to work. “At one o’clock the boss called ‘gillon,’ and with loud shouts and rough horse-play, the men made a rush for the bunk-house.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

give someone cards and spades = to allow someone else an advantage. “Now, that cave man I read about the other day could give us cards and spades.” Marion Reid-Girardot, Steve of the Bar-G Ranch.

green goods = counterfeit money. “They are waiting for you in the wicked town—they can see you coming. The next ones will spring a real live game, green goods, or wire tapping.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

greener = a tenderfoot. “He hates a greener. He thinks no wan but an owld hand has any business in th’ woods.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

gut = a channel of water, a strait. “The next moment it leaped clear of the water and plunged blindly into the whirling tossing pandemonium of the white-water gut.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

hasp = a contrivance for fastening a door or lid; a hinged metal plate with a hole which fits over a staple and is secured by a pin or padlock. “He slipped the heavy hasp of the door over the staple and secured it with the wooden pin.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

hold-over = a workman unable to return to work because of a previous day or night’s dissipation. “Evil things were whispered of Moncrossen’s man-handling of ‘hold-overs’.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

jobbernowl = a blockhead, stupid person. “Creed’s a dhrivlin’ jobbernowl that orders his comin’s be th’ hang av th’ moon, an’ his goin’s be th’ dhreams av his head.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

kale = money. “Pass over the kale. Just slip out a five for your trouble.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

kick-back = a tree jumping back over the stump toward the faller. “Reed and Kantochy, two sawyers, were caught by a ‘kick-back’.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

Canada lynx
knucks = brass knuckles. “And as for the pummeling I got afterward with the knucks—that was my own lookout—the railroad company is not to blame for that.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

loup cervier = the Canada lynx. “They set about skinning the loup-cervier, and spread the pelt upon the floor for a robe.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

Loup garou
loup garou = werewolf; a creature able to change appearance from wolf to human and back again. “And has not Jacques told me of how you killed the loup-garou; of how you are hated by Moncrossen, and feared by Creed?” James Hendryx, The Promise.

pace = indulgence in reckless dissipation. “He must make good—must win to the fore in the business world as he had won in the athletic. And above all he must forswear the pace!” James Hendryx, The Promise.

Pier glass
pier glass = a mirror placed between two windows, generally of a long and tall shape. “He paused before a tall pier-glass and surveyed himself through bloodshot eyes.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

pilgrim = a tenderfoot. “Two pilgrims that called theirselves sawyers not bein’ able to dodge a kick-back.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

praties = potatoes. “An’ phwat’ll ye be doin’? Peelin’ praties fer that dommed pisener in th’ kitchen.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

put to the brush = to beat, defeat. “Some claims he c’ud put th’ boss himself to th’ brush, wunst he got shtar-rted.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

Eskimo, snow shoes
rackets = snowshoes. “As the freezing nights hardened the crust upon the surface of the sodden snow, Jacques discarded his rackets.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

ragtag and bobtail = riffraff, rabble. “The companions of the stricken brute—the gaunt, tireless leaders, who had traveled beside him in the van, and the rag-tag and bobtail alike—fell upon him tooth and nail.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

skive = the action of cutting into something. “Great yellow rolls of butter into which the knives of the men skived deeply.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

soak = to hit, sock. “I guess you didn’t reach out an’ soak me—a cop!” James Hendryx, The Promise.

soused to the guards = very drunk. “‘Soused to the guards,’ he sneered, ‘an’ me with ten years scairt offen my life fer fear I’d wake him.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

spiflicated = drunk. “He got spiflicated, built a roarin’ fire in the old stove—an’ there y’are, plain as daylight.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

spotted fever = typhus or meningitis; any of several diseases characterized by fever and skin spots. “The cook contracted spotted fever and died.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

Worker with bark spud
spud = a chisel-like tool, for removing bark or digging into ice. “I don’t need no men, let alone a greener that don’t know a peavey from a bark spud.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

sweeper = an uprooted tree that has fallen into a stream, capable of sweeping men off a raft or log or causing a jam. “The branches of a gigantic, storm-blasted pine, whose earth-laded butt dragged heavily along the bottom of the river, became firmly entangled in the low-hanging limbs of a sweeper.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

tear out the bone = to exert oneself. “Bill’ll be boss, an’ th’ min’ll tear out th’ bone to bate Moncrossen!” James Hendryx, The Promise.

ten-twenty-thirty = a cheap and typically melodramatic theatrical entertainment; so-called because of the price in cents of seats. “‘Must be in Chicago this evening,’ he muttered quite audibly, pulling a ten, twent, thirt frown that caused his labial foliage to rustle with importance.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

toggle chain = a short piece of chain connecting two functioning parts of a device, to allow flexibility between them. “Ye’ll be thinkin’ o’ steppin’ out the door wi’ ye’re new boots an’ ye’re pack an’ trippin’ up to Blood River in maybe it’s two walks, wi’ naught in ye’re belly but a can o’ cold fish an’ a stun weight o’ Mary Burrage’s bread, which there ain’t no more raisin’ into it nor a toggle-chain.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

toothpick = small trees. “Toothpick logging it was called then, and H. D. Appleton was contemptuously referred to as ‘the toothpicker’.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

wool = to pull the hair of someone in anger. “All the pleasure of the chase now gave place to pity for the lifeless form which the dogs were wooling so savagely.” Marion Reid-Girardot, Steve of the Bar-G Ranch.

wurrah! = an expression of sorrow or anxiety. “Wurrah! Maybe he wasn’t failin’ roight.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

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

long-geared = “[of a team of horses] The greener swung the long-geared tote team to a stand in front of the office door.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

pulling it = “I’d of stood for it, at that, but the girls got to pullin’ it too raw even for Broadway. James Hendryx, The Promise.

romp and rout = “As the gay calendar of society’s romp and rout drew toward its close, the names of these two became more and more intimately associated.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

thruse = “Battles is won not in th’ thruse, but in th’ foightin’.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

Image credits:
Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows (1902)


  1. The term Bateau is still used down here, though only by locals. I do see it quite often, though.

    1. I've found French terms showing up in fiction set in Canada, just as Spanish infiltrated the Southwest.

  2. These are excellent. Actually found a few I'd never heard before.

  3. Another great post - thanks! Do you think "pulling it" would be a shortened version of "pulling my leg"?

    1. Thanks for taking a stab at it. From the context, I'm guessing it has something to do with loose behavior.

  4. "Dacoit" is an Indian term. I read an account of someone held up by dacoits in the Times of India when I was there a few years ago.

    I had been familiar with the word from reading Kipling but it tickled me to find it still in use.

    1. Yes, the character using the term had served there in the British forces during the Empire.

  5. Another good list... Many I haven't heard. is a "tote team" a set of horses?