Saturday, November 23, 2013

Glossary of frontier fiction: D
(drench - dyke)

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.”

drench = a drink or a dose of medicine. “When they had one of Doc Simpson’s drenches they haids was as big as Bill Williams’s Mountain.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

Bloomer dress, 
dress reform = a movement in support of women’s clothing more “rational” and comfortable than fashions of the time, e.g. the Bloomer dress. “‘I dare say,’ said Miss Crowley, ‘that his wife wears spectacles, believes in dress-reform or woman’s rights, or she has six babies.’” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.

dressing case = a box or case fitted with toilet articles necessary for dressing oneself, arranging one's hair, etc. “In a curtained alcove was a French dressing-case that Mrs. Suffridge said was over a hundred years old.” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.

Dressing case, 1840-1860
drill = to walk. “One mornin’ I noticed that I was dead broke; so I drilled down to the dock an’ sat on a post.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

drill / drilling = a fabric in various weights used for work clothing and uniforms, e.g. khaki. “Her short skirt of heavy drilling came only to her knees.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

drivers = the wheels of a locomotive that transmit the power of an engine or motor to the track. “Then the drivers gripped heavily and the engine surged ahead.” W. C. Tuttle, Thicker Than Water.

drop light = a portable gas lamp attached to the gas pipe by a flexible tube; an electric light suspended from the ceiling. “The judge pressed the button of the drop-light and waved his visitor to a chair.” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

drop one’s watermelon = to make a serious mistake. “That’s where Coyote makes the mistake of his c’reer; that’s where he drops his watermelon!” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville Nights.

druggeting = a heavy felted fabric of wool or wool and cotton, used as a covering. “Already the lights were being extinguished and the ushers spreading druggeting over the upholstered seats.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

drum stove = a stove made from a barrel-shaped container, e.g. an oil drum. “A cheery fire was burning in the stuffy little drum stove in the center of the common waiting room.” G. Frank Lydston, Poker Jim, Gentleman.

dry moon = a lunar phase when the points, or “horns,” of the crescent moon point downward toward the horizon. “Well, Slocum, he owned a third of everything, mind, an’ his expression flopped square over like a dry moon, an’ stayed points up.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

dub = awkward, unskillful person; a bungler. “‘Why, you old dub,’ cried Wade, ‘the wire is from Jim Hess, Clyde’s uncle.’” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

The Duchess, 1906
Duchess, The = Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (1855-1897), an Irish novelist whose light romantic fiction was popular throughout the English-speaking world in the 19th century. “It’s kind of tiresome sometimes in winter; lying on your bunk reading magazines or them dime novels by the Duchess and Mary Corelli.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

duck = a fellow, person. “So was the young fellow who put in the mail-bags, and that yellow-headed duck in the store this morning.” Owen Wister, Red Men and White.

duck fit = a temper tantrum. “Sewell’s that breed, y’ know, hard-mouthed as a mule, and if he cain’t run things, why, he’ll take a duck-fit.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

duck on a/the rock = a children’s game of tag involving the pitching of stones at a rock. “‘Let's play duck on the rock,’ suggested Florence.” Will Lillibridge, Ben Blair.

dudeen = a short clay tobacco pipe. “‘Straight and dry, like a Geological Survey report, ain’t it?’ said Jon at last, into the bowl of his dudeen.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

duff = a flour pudding boiled or steamed in a cloth bag. “She was lifting the big kettle, steaming with the last duff of rice, bacon rind, and the raw-hide of moccasins.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

duffer = an incompetent, ineffectual, or clumsy person. “These shoes were set at the post blacksmith-shop, or I’m a duffer.” Charles King, Dunraven Ranch.

duffing = cattle stealing. “According to your message you are the chief victim of this ‘duffing’ business?” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

duffle = equipment or supplies, especially those of a camper. “He piled Millie’s room with everything a girl ever wanted, together with a lot of useless duffle no girl could find use for.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

Duke’s Mixture = a brand of smoking tobacco originated by Washington Duke in the 1860s; believed to be made of tobacco odds and ends, “duke’s mixture” came to refer to any hodge-podge of things. “Now a few yar ago nothin’ but Duke’s Mixture would do for me, but now I won’t smoke nothin’ but Bull Durham.” Pauline Wilson Worth, Death Valley Slim and Other Stories.

dulce domum = home sweet home (literally, “Sweetly at Home,” a holiday song associated with St. Mary’s College, Winchester, originating in the 17th century). “Theoretically – heretofore always strictly theoretically – he possessed a strong dulce domum impulse.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

dump = a pile or heap of rock or ore. “In a single sitting, she gambled away thirty thousand of Jack Dorsey’s dust,—Dorsey, with two mortgages already on his dump!” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

dumping bar = a device for removing ash and clinker from the fire grate of a locomotive steam engine. “While they wrestle with the dumping-bar, these two, the poising figures have swarmed upon the Naught-seven, and a voice is lifted above the Babel of others in sharp protest.” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

Lord Dundreary
Dundreary = a character of the 1858 British play Our American Cousin; the personification of a good-natured, brainless aristocrat. “An elderly man, his clear eyes, honest face, framed in white side-whiskers of the Dundreary style, all stamped him as belonging to the old-fashioned school of finance.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

dunnage = personal baggage. “You come out o’ there, take your horse and dunnage, and git.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

Durham Ox, 1802
Durham = a breed of shorthorn cattle developed in 18th century England. “Mrs. Yellett, who had never heard that ‘a soft voice is an excellent thing in woman’ and whose chest-notes were not unlike those of a Durham in sustained volume of sound, made the valley of the Wind River echo with the summons of the pupils to school.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

dust cutter = an alcoholic drink. “The ball’s about to open. Pardners for a waltz. Have a dust-cutter, Mac, before she grows warm.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

Dutch courage = false bravery, fortified by alcohol. “This assurance lent an added braggadocio to the Dutch courage of the lynchers.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

Dutch gilt paper = a type of highly decorative papers that were printed by means of blocks of wood or metal, or by engraved rollers, and dusted with gold. “She was taught these verses from a little old book bound in the gaudiest of Dutch gilt paper.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Dutchman’s pipe = a common name for some unrelated flowering plants, which have flowers or stems resembling pipes. “There isn’t enough sunshine out in front for anything but the honeysuckle and the Dutchman’s pipe.” Samuel Merwin, The Road-Builders.

“Dying Ranger, The” = a traditional cowboy song. “S’pose we-alls gives him ‘The Dyin’ Ranger’ an’ ‘Sandy Land’ for an hour or so an’ see.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

dyke = a long and relatively thin body of igneous rock that, while in the molten state, intruded a fissure in older rocks. “He described the mountains on the south with their mighty dykes, yawning chasms, grassy basins, snow-slide tracks, cataracts and water-falls.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

Next: E 


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: Lawyers in early frontier fiction


  1. I remember drill as a type of fabric. Learned it somewhere. another great list.

  2. Thanks for another interesting list! Dressing cases ... something my two characters would have, and I'd never heard about until now ... always something to learn over here