Saturday, November 9, 2013

Glossary of frontier fiction: D
(d.f. - ding)

Below is a list of mostly forgotten terms, people, and the occasional song, drawn from a reading offrontier fiction, 1880–1915. Each week a new list, progressing through the alphabet, “from A to Izzard.”

d. f. / dee-fool = damned fool. “Air you a-jumpin’ on us ’cause Marthy Thomas is a d.f.?” Nancy Mann Waddell Woodrow, The New Missioner.

dang my melt = literally, damn me; dang me (from melt = spleen). “Dang my melt if I can see how them wild-catters can keep on takin’ money from folks.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.

Daniel in the lions' den, 1890
Daniel come to judgment = someone who makes a wise judgment about something that has previously proven difficult to resolve (reference to the Old Testament prophet Daniel; the phrase first appears in Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice). “When it came to doing the Daniel-arrived-at-judgment act, he had Blackstone and all the other calf-bound antiques begging for mercy.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

dark as Egypt = totally dark (maybe a reference to the plague of darkness cast on Egypt by Moses in Exodus 10:21). “Flatray counted four other cabins as dark as Egypt.” William MacLeod Raine, Brand Blotters.

Grace Darling, c1839
Darling, Grace = an English woman (1815-1842) who in 1838, along with her father, saved 13 people from the wreck of the SS Forfarshire. “As Grace Darling she smooths the fever-heated pillow of the Crimea.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

dasher = a plunger for agitating cream in a churn. “He took the dasher into his own hand and began a brave onslaught on the over-sour cream.” Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn.

dasher = a board of wood or leather in the front of a carriage to keep out mud; a dashboard. “There was a swift lurch that sent him flying over the dasher.” Hamlin Garland, Main-Travelled Roads.

David Harum = fictional character in a popular novel of the same name, published 1898, about a sharply devious horse trader. “It was with many misgivings that I called out in a loud, breezy voice and David Harum manner; ‘Hello, Governor, how will you trade mules?’” Oscar Micheaux, The Conquest.

daystar = the morning star, the sun. “It was his day-star and his life, the one pleasure that brought no suffering with it.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Madame de Staël
de Staël, Germaine = French-speaking Swiss author of notable notoriety (1766-1817). “Kate Poison-Water was a sort of De Stael among the Sioux. She was a serpent in cunning, a tigress in strength and agility—a Sioux squaw in general deviltry.” Will Levington Comfort, Trooper Tales.

deacon seat = in logging camp bunkhouses, a bench made of halved logs, flat side up, usually extending across the room. “He could see the bunk-house filled with the smoke of unspeakable tobacco, the unkempt, weather-hardened men on the ‘deacon seat,’ and the festoons of garments drying above the stove.” A. M. Chisholm, The Boss of Wind River.

dead card = a card out of play, such as discards, or one involved in a foul, such as falling off the table. “When Peets quits a little thing like consumption an’ shoves his chair back, you’alls can gamble a gent’s health, that a-way, is on a dead kyard.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

dead game = never daunted. “You work along with me, kid, and I’ll make a dead-game one out of you!” Caroline Lockhart, Me—Smith.

dead line = a boundary separating people, animals, or activities, e.g. a dividing line on the range between sheep and cattle herding. “Now, you see this back log in the center of my blankets is the dead line between us.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

dead soldier = an empty bottle. “Then Buck took the flask and studied the constellations for a while, after which a ‘dead soldier’ was consigned to a sage bush.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

dead-water = a phenomenon that can occur when a layer of fresh or brackish water rests on top of denser salt water, without the two layers mixing. “The last mile of the river’s course before joining the lake consisted of deep, smooth ‘dead-water’.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

dead work = unproductive work. “The ‘dead work’ had not been confined to Golddust and Pine Valley Bar; it embraced the Colonel’s mining interests.” Lewis B. France, Pine Valley.

deadfall = a trap with a weight that falls on the prey. “My house is like a deadfall trap. Indeed—ah, yes, only one door, you see.” Roger Pocock, Curly.

deadfall = a rough saloon. “Beware the pine tree’s withered branch, / Beware a ‘deadfall’, called Chalk Ranch.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

deadhead = to make a trip without passengers or freight. “Benson returned from the west, coming in on a light engine that was deadheading from Red Butte to the Angels shops.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

deadhead = receiving services without paying. “We let them in for what they had, except the alcalde, who entered deadhead.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

deadwood = discarded playing cards. “Bill gathered up the ‘deadwood,’ and, propping his face upon his hands, watched the betting.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

deal = soft wood, pine or fir. “He sat down by a small deal table.” Frances Charles, In The Country God Forgot.

dee = a loop attached to tack, for fastening gear. “Stuck his fingers down into Sabiel’s old saddle till he found the wooden dees.” S. Carleton Jones, Out of Drowning Valley.

Françoise Delsarte, 1861
Delsarte = a style of musical performance, developed by François Delsarte (1811-1871), emphasizing emotional expression and gesture. “This harrowing ballad was repeated with accompanying Delsarte at intervals during the afternoon.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

demijohn = a large bottle having a short, narrow neck, and usually encased in wickerwork. “He spent much time by himself in his dirty shack, drinking from a demijohn which he kept hidden under some sacks in a corner.” George Pattullo, The Untamed.

democrat wagon = a light flatbed farm wagon or ranch wagon with two or more seats, usually drawn by one or more horses. “Then, with some yards intervening, came a four-horsed democrat wagon driven by a large man with a terrible squint.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Sheriff of Dyke Hole.

dengue = a tropical disease, with fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a skin rash like measles. “The young girl whom Gilbert had brought to the Wagon-Tire House was indeed suffering from dengue.” Grace and Alice MacGowan, Aunt Huldah.

devil = an assistant, apprentice. “He swore he would kill off the working force, from the editor-in-chief down to ‘Freckled Jimmie,’ the devil.” Cy Warman, Frontier Stories.

devil’s club = a large shrub native to the cool, moist forests of western North America, noted for its large palmate leaves and erect, woody stems covered in brittle spines. “His breath gave out as they floundered into fern-choked forest which was further garnished with the horrible devil’s club.” Harold Bindloss, Alton of Somasco.

dewlap = a mark of ownership made on the underside of the neck or brisket of an animal by pinching up a quantity of skin and cutting it loose but not off, leaving a hanging flap. “He’s plumb shore to dewlap and wattle his fool self till you could spot him in airy herd o’ humans as fer as you could see him.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

diagonals = clothing made of twilled fabric woven with diagonal lines. “He looked at Lutz in his shiny black diagonals, undersized, sallow, his meaningless brown eyes as dull as the eyes of a dead fish.” Caroline Lockhart, The Lady Doc.

diamond = the intersection of two railways. “He has put two of our heaviest engines into the ditch and ten men into hospital. Not bad, but—he didn’t lay the diamond.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

diamond hitch = a kind of knot used to fasten one thing temporarily to another; a common method of roping a pack on an animal. “I’ve a notion those boys are sufferin’ for a woman to put the diamond-hitch on them bandages.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

dicer = a hat. “He wore fine clothes, and a dicer, and when it come to soothin’ the ladies and holdin’ paws, he was there with both hoofs.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

Dick’s hatband = anything improvised, makeshift. “Of course, he’s closer than Dick’s hat-band, but she’ll have the best there is until he takes another.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Digger Injun = a derogatory term for a member of any of several Indian peoples of western North America, especially of a tribe that dug roots for food. “I jumped at a poor little bandy-legged sheep-herder, a cross between a gorilla and a Digger Injunscared him to death.” Dane Coolidge, Hidden Water.

digger = a crippled horse. “Ralston’s rope, cutting the air, dropped about the neck of the insignificant, white ‘digger’ that had caused it all.” Caroline Lockhart, Me—Smith.

diggings = lodging. “I want you to make yourself scarce around here from now on. Don’t let Frosty know you’re in the diggin’s at all.” Grace and Alice MacGowan, Aunt Huldah.

dilberry = a stupid, dull, or obnoxious person. “Fine bunch o’ dilberries, we-uns, a lettin’ him fetch us out ’n’ set us afoot th’ first ten days!” Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman.

diligence = a stagecoach. “We sailed in November from ’Frisco, bound for San José de Guatemala. From there we were to take diligences to the capital.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

ding = damn. “‘That girl is in it, somehow,’ he muttered. ‘Ding the women. They’re in everything.’” Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters.


Sources: Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Dictionary of the American West, The Cowboy Dictionary, The Cowboy Encyclopedia, Cowboy Lingo, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and various online dictionaries

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: The Old West illustrated

1 comment:

  1. By the way, I finally finished that book Bright-sided and put up my review on Goodreads. you'd mentioned when I started it that you were curious about my take.