Saturday, December 7, 2013

Glossary of frontier fiction: F
(facer – flannel band)

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

facer = an unexpected problem or obstacle. “A facer lay ahead of them beside which the mere receipt of the five letters was nothing.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

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.

fagging = to tire, weary. “It was his way to pick out the roughest possible path before him, to settle within himself that it was that of duty, and to follow it without fagging or complaint.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.

faille = a slightly ribbed, woven fabric of silk or cotton. “I’ve had things ’most as fine as Lutie’s. Satins, brocades, failles, grosgrains, taffetas, all kinds, anything I wanted.” Nancy Mann Waddell Woodrow, The New Missioner.

Caroline Norton
“Fair Bingen on the Rhine” = a sentimental poem by British poet Caroline Norton (1808-1877) about the death of a soldier in Algiers. “By his side was his wife, Amelia, the reigning favourite, who could play the piano and sing ‘Fair Bingen on the Rhine’ with a dash that was said to be superb.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord. Full text here.

fairy lamp = a small, glass candle lamp that gained popularity during the 1880s and '90's. “A fairy lamp burned over the great open fireplace, and by this he saw her go to the child’s little crib.” Frances Charles, In The Country God Forgot.

fairy well = a small pool of water or spring into which visitors dropped pins or buttons for wishes to be granted. “Judith, going to her favorite pool to bathe, saw that it had shrunk till it seemed but a fairy well hid among the willows.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

fakir = a street salesman of cheap goods. “It’s but a little phrase, ’tis true, / ‘ Its meaning well each ‘fakir’ knew.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

fall into snap = achieve success easily. “Brother Josh, now he was little fellow, fell right into snap t’once.” Frances Charles, In The Country God Forgot.

faller = a logging worker who fells the trees. “The ‘fallers’ had worked along the slope, slope that was almost cliff; and all the trees of value had been felled criss-cross, upon each other and upon the mass of smaller trees their fall had shattered.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

fan = to drive away or scatter like chaff. “There was a kind of a Death March into the dining-room from which Mrs. Terriberry had unceremoniously ‘fanned’ the regular boarders.” Caroline Lockhart, The Lady Doc.

fancy woman = a kept mistress, a man’s lover. “The fancy-women who flock wherever the nuggets are thickest, now segregate themselves in a secluded quarter of the township.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

fandango = a ball or dance. “We’ve got them fellers roped and tied, gents, and they simply won’t be ace-high with the ladies of this camp after our fandango is over with.” Randall Parrish, Bob Hampton of Placer.

fanning mill = a device consisting of two vibrating screens and using an air blast to clean and separate grain. “His tooth wobbled like the side motion of a fanning-mill.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

fan-tan = a Chinese gambling game similar to roulette. “There’s one bias-eyed fan-tanner that won’t pull his freight for Chiny as soon as he gets his pockets full of good American money.” Florence Finch Kelly, With Hoops of Steel.

fantods = a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness; the willies; the fidgets. “That’s the reason she had such fantods when I wanted to kiss her that day last summer!” Florence Finch Kelly, With Hoops of Steel.

Boys playing marbles, c1891
farthing dip = a candle. “The earth being as it is to-day, a compromise, and love being dependent upon property, and chastity upon chattels, and the stars of the Universe upon farthing dips.” Emerson Hough, Heart’s Desire.

feathers = wealth, money. “I’ve had feathers enough in my time to make me a good bed, but I scattered and wasted ’em all with whisky and brandy.” Florence Finch Kelly, With Hoops of Steel.

feezed = worried, alarmed. “Maud, I’m shore feazed! I been believin’, since I got back from Noo York, that it was settled I was to marry Mace.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

fend dubs = a call in marbles preventing a shooter from taking both marbles if he hits two. “What does ‘fend dubs’ mean?” she persisted. “I will teach you to play marbles sometime, if you wish to learn.” Mary Hallock Foote, The Led-Horse Claim.

Eugene Field
fice dog = A Feist dog, used for hunting, believed to be a cross between Native American dogs and dogs brought by the colonists. “While grub’s cookin’ and Crawfish an’ me’s pow-wowin’, a little dog Crawfish has–one of them no-account fice-dogs–comes up an’  makes a small uprisin’ to one side.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

Field, Eugene = popular American poet (1850-1895), newspaper writer and editor, known for his children’s poetry. “Always carried a copy of Gene field’s Western verses. Said he knowed Field.” Cy Warman, Frontier Stories.

Presidential fifteen puzzle, 1880
fifteen puzzle = a sliding puzzle that consists of a frame of numbered square tiles in random order with one tile missing. “We resume our conversation on the tariff, which we know as little about as anybody else, and which is, it seems to me, the great fifteen puzzle of the nineteenth century.” Patience Stapleton, Babe Murphy.

figure-four trap = a simple deadfall animal trap, with supports arranged in the shape of the number 4. “Instead of shooting the rabbit for supper, I’m going to try a figure-four trap.” Honoré Willsie Morrow, The Heart of the Desert.

file-closer = a commissioned or noncommissioned officer posted in the rear of a line, or on the flank of a column, of soldiers, to correct mistakes and insure steadiness and promptness in the ranks. “Two men fell out and made a temporary gap in the rank; through this a sergeant file-closer extended his white glove, relieved the captain of his charge, and led the panting steed away.” Charles King, Dunraven Ranch.

fill your tea-kettle = bird song. “The meadow-larks, singly or in pairs, announcing their arrival with a guttural ‘tuerk’ and a saucy flit of the tail, or admonishing ‘fill your tea-kettle, fill your tea-kettle’ with a persistence worthy a better cause.” Will Lillibridge, Ben Blair.

fillip = to flick, flip, propel. “The post-oak leaves, brushing his cheek with their rough, wet surfaces, filliped the woodsy dew into his eyes.” Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters.

fin = hand, arm. “‘Workin’ with your fins,’ says this Wilkins, ‘is low an’ onendoorin’ to a gent with pride to wound.’” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

finikin = fussy, fastidious, precise in trifles, squeamish, picky. “He had all the high and formal breeding which runs with pure Castilian blood: the finikin hospitality and that exaggerated punctiliousness toward women.” Mary Austin, Isidro.

fire-bag = a long leather bag, containing pipe, tobacco, knife, flint and steel. “He also carried a fire-bag, the Spencer repeating carbine given him by his comrade, together with an elk-horn whip.” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.

fire rake = a long-handled combination rake and cutting tool, the blade of which is usually constructed of a single row of four sharpened teeth. “Then there would be a noise of fire-rake, and Bill could be heard hurling wood into the furnace.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

fireweed = an herb found in open fields, pastures, and particularly burned-over land. “Across moist flats in the jaundicing shade of big cottonwoods, over windy passes where the air was white with the filmy spore of fireweed.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

fix = food to prepare for a meal (cf. fixings). “Come over and have a cup of coffee with me this morning’; your commissary looks to be out of fix.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.

fix = condition, state; euphemism for “pregnant.” “Sadie, ain’t you ’fraid t’ talk that way an’ you in that fix?” Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn.

fix up = to make oneself presentable, dress up, smarten up. “Mr. Lovering had not come, as his wife placidly explained, ‘because he did so hate to fix up.’” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

flag = a quill feather of a bird’s wing. “Say, ain’t he a bird? Look at his flag; it’s perfect; and see how he carries his tail on a line with his back.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

flail = a threshing tool consisting of a wooden staff with a short heavy stick swinging from it. “The gun barrel rose and fell like a flail beating down the heads of grain.” Cyrus Townsend Brady, The West Wind.

flam = to deceive, play a trick, hoodwink. “This here expedition was got up just on account o’ your nerves, an’ now that we’ve come to the most important point of all, why, you flam out an’ put all the risk on us.” Robert Alexander Wason, Friar Tuck.

flank = throw a calf onto its side for branding. “Roping and flanking calves has an interest peculiar to itself.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

Flannel band
flannel band = a band made of flannel, worn to protect the navel-cord dressing until a baby was six weeks old. “There were infant ailments to be discussed, there were the questions of food and of teething, of paregoric and of flannel bands.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.


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: Trails of the Wild


  1. Fantods is pretty cool. Not sure how I missed that one. I usually collect those kinds of words.

    1. When I first ran across "fantods" (in one of Edward Gorey's books), I admit I thought it was a made-up term.

    2. I've found it in several sources. Though I agree, it sounds like a word someone like O. Henry would have invented.

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