Saturday, November 30, 2013

Glossary of frontier fiction: E

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.”

earthen and iron pots = a fable in which an earthen pot is shattered by an iron pot, the moral being that one should keep the company of one’s own kind. “Nothing will satisfy them but a human sacrifice on the altar of a questionable nobility, and a repetition of the old fable of the earthen and iron pots.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

eat dog = to suffer humiliation and insult. “You needn’t think we are specially keen for eating dog on this kind of a job!” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.

Edward Eggleston, 1912
ecarte = a two-player card game similar to whist and closely related to euchre. “I just got nicked for a hundred in your ecarte game.” W. C. Tuttle, Thicker Than Water.

Eggleston, Edward = American author and historian (1837-1902), best known for novels set in Indiana. “This serial (which involved my sister and myself in many a spat as to who should read it first) was The Hoosier Schoolmaster, by Edward Eggleston, and a perfectly successful attempt to interest western readers in a story of the middle border.” Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border.

Electrolier, 1910
electrolier = a fixture, usually hanging from the ceiling, for holding electric lamps; analogous to chandelier, from which it was formed. “Society’s gradations, markings and distinctions, were measured by the number of electric bulbs in a merchant’s window, the size of the gaudy ‘electrolier’ on the table in his newly-plastered dining room.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.

elevate = to execute by hanging. “‘We’ve got a half-breed here,’ said he, ‘who’s got to be elevated.’” John Neihardt, The Lonesome Trail.

elflocks = tangled hair. “‘To be sure you’re not the man,’ he said, nodding his head until his elf-locks danced around his face.” James Oliver Curwood, The Courage of Captain Plum.

ell = the length of the arm from elbow to the tip of the middle finger; preserved in the phrase “give someone an inch and he’ll take an ell.” “‘If we ask Paul, there is his mother.’ ‘Of course; the inch always has its ell.” Hattie Horner Louthan, This Was a Man!

ell = a lean-to. “This old bar, the last remaining bit of furniture in the place, guarded the sagging door of a small ell evidently once used as a tap-room.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

embonpoint = plumpness, stoutness. “They were met at the door by a plump-faced lady of ample proportions who was evidently fighting a losing battle with a tendency toward embonpoint.” 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.

entryman = one who enters upon public land with intent to secure an allotment under homestead, mining, or other laws. “I didn’t know Senator had his drag net out for parsons as dummy entrymen!” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.

esker = a long ridge of gravel and other sediment, typically winding, deposited by meltwater from a retreating glacier or ice sheet. “The distance down the slope, across the esker and up among the silt mounds of the gridded ice, appeared to shrink.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

Everlasting pea
even bones = a tied score. “They played the five hands an’ it was even bones at the fourth show.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

everlasting = flowers or foliage that retains form or color for a long time when dried. “It was the Ranger in his sage green Service suit wearing a sprig of everlasting in his Alpine hat.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.


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: Mark Mitten, Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave


  1. I wander when eating dog got replaced by eating crow.

    1. I'm guessing they grew up together, but went to different schools.

  2. THANKS for the credit nod to my DICTIONARY OF THE AMERICAN WEST, Ron. Some of my favorite Western expressions come from their keen interest in three things--booze, whores, and death. Some of the terms are really colorful, some poetic. One expression for death, for instance, is "ride a painted pony with its face to the west."

    1. Great resource, the Dictonary of the American West. Well done. You're right about the many expressions for those particular subjects. Another phrase for death I like: "a jump into the misty beyond."

    2. Storyteller is Win Blevins, who devoted a lot of time and passion to creating a marvelous dictionary of western terms. I recommend it to anyone who is interested. I use it frequently.