Saturday, December 28, 2013

Glossary of frontier fiction: G
(gad - going tick)

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.”

gad = a goad; point or stick used for driving draught animals. “He poked ’er in the ribs with the butt o’ his gad.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

Gainsborough portrait
gag = a deception. “No, ma’am; you don’t run any such gag as that on me.” Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn.

gage d’amour = a pledge of love; a love token. “I fancy Mrs. Belknap thinks as you thought,—that it was a gage d’amour.” Charles King, Dunraven Ranch.

Gainsborough hat = a womans broad-brimmed hat resembling those shown in portraits by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). “Mrs. Ballinger was with her in gorgeous raiment, as usual, this time I think some sort of a figured silk in soft pink and blue with a wide Gainsborough hat.” Patience Stapleton, Babe Murphy.

Man in gaiters, 1901
gaiters = shoes or overshoes extending to the ankle or above. “‘What’s the matter with these old shoes?’ she exclaimed, turning about with a pair of half-worn silk gaiters in her hand.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

gaillardia = an American flower of the daisy family, cultivated for its bright red and yellow blossoms. “The gold of yellow midsummer light dyed in the asters and sunflowers and great flowered gaillardias and golden rod, with an odor of dried grasses or mint or cloves.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.

galley-west = askew, confused, lopsided, scattered
Gailardia suavis
in all directions. “That scheme was knocked galley-west and crooked.” Bertrand Sinclair, Raw Gold

galligaskins = loose trousers, leggings. “Some of the infantrymen got tired of sewing up three-cornered tears in their galligaskins.” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.

gallinipper = a stinging or biting insect. “That what I'm payin' you for, you blame gallinipper!” Jackson Gregory, Under Handicap.

Boy, single gallows, 1840s
Galloway = a Scottish breed of beef cattle having a coat of curly, black hair“Again it was a black steer that was released—a hornless galloway, as wild as a native buffalo and as fleet as an ordinary horse.” Kate and Virgil Boyles, The Homesteaders.

gallows / gallus = a pair or one of a pair of suspenders (braces), to support the trousers. “A full-lipped, full-blooded little urchin, his trousers held up by a single gallows, stood beside her.” Willa Cather, The Troll Garden.

gally = distasteful, impudent. “It’ll be good riddance of bad rubbish. They’re too gally.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

gambade = a leap or bound. “What I ought to do now is to gambade after him.” S. Carleton Jones, Out of Drowning Valley.

gamboge = a gum resin used as a purgative. “If I’m sick and have to depend on myself, all right. I’ll dose up with lobelia or gamboge.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

gammon = chatter. “No gammon now, fellers; everybody sings that knows her.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

gangue = the commercially valueless material in which ore is found. “The poor ore can’t help itself, any more than the slag and gangue can, and Mark’s not either of those, you bet.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

ganted = gaunt, thin; poor; diminished. “I weigh one ninety when I’m ganted down to workin’ trim.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

Ganymede = cup bearer to Zeus; barkeeper. “I hereby apprises our honored barkeep that the camp’s honing’ to yoonite in a libation to your health, Jack,’ concludes Cherokee, motionin’ to Black Jack, ‘as the Ganymede of the establishment the rest remains with you.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville Folks.

garden sass = vegetables, particularly those used in making sauces. “Its only garden was a spacious patch of cabbages and ‘garden sass’ three or four hundred yards down toward the edge of the forest.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

Gatling gun
Gat = a gun, short for Gatling gun. “If you’ll just stick me up and extract the .38 automatic I’m packin’ on my hip,and, believe me, she’s a bad Gat. when she’s in action,—why, I’ll feel lots better.” Henry Herbert Knibbs, Overland Red.

gated = to be confined to a school or college’s grounds. “He hated getting out of bed, and he was constantly gated for morning chapel.” Gilbert Parker, Northern Lights.

gazabo = a fellow, a guy (derogatory). “‘That long, stoop-shouldered gazabo’s got the stuff on him,’ he growled.” Bertrand Sinclair, Raw Gold.

G. B. = grand bounce, dismissal. “And whichever of us mule-skinners happens t’ be bringin’ it in’ll git the G. B. from that high-falutin’ gent in the States that owns the shootin’-match. No, ma’am!” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

gee = voice command to horses or oxen to go right; haw, go left. “He watched the driver gee his train with a steady pull on the rod and haw it with two swift, strong jerks.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

geeswax = a mild expletive for “Jesus.” “If ’twould ease the Parson any to talk, by geeswax, he would stand it!” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

Henry George
George, Henry = an American writer, politician, and political economist (1839-1897). “It will be a hundred years before Henry George is recognized as a great man.” Gertrude Atherton, Los Cerritos.

German = a cotillion, a complex dance in which one couple leads the other couples through a variety of figures and there is a continual change of partners. “The evolutions of their ‘grand march’ are too intricate for description, and would completely bewilder a fashionable leader of the German.” Charles Lummis, A Tramp Across the Continent.

get down and scratch = to take notice. “But she had a head on her, Barbie had, an’ when she got squared away, she made ’em all get down an’ scratch.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

get the bulge on = take advantage. “I guess the half-breed’s got the bulge on us.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

ghost walker = a person who feigns or fabricates an assignment. “‘High brows,’ ‘dreamers,’ ‘ghost walkers,’ ‘barkers,’ ‘biters,’ ‘muck-rakers!’ Oh, he knew the choice names that lawless greed cast at such as he.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.

Giant = dynamite produced by Giant Power Company. “They sets a kag o’ that Giant on the stove to warm it, and it goes off on ‘em and tears everything to pieces.” Mary Hallock Foote, The Led-Horse Claim.

Gibbous moon
gibbous = a lunar phase between half and full moon. “A year has gone and the moon is bright, A gibbous moon, like a ghost of woe.” Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon.

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.

gimlet = a rider so inexperienced he makes a horse’s back sore. “I’m not afraid of any man in your outfit, from the gimlet to the big auger.” Andy Adams, Cattle Brands.

gin-pole = a rigid pole with a pulley on the end used for the purpose of lifting. “The little loading donkey puffed and tooted, directing its towering gin-pole which picked and chose uncannily among the logs, grappling many-ton timbers with its two drag-hooks, placing them here and there as a deft woman packs a trunk.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

ginger = to enliven. “He tried to ginger things up a bit when he was new here.” Will Lillibridge, Ben Blair.

Ginger jar
ginger jar = a porcelain container, originating in China, used for spices, as gifts, and decorative objects; used for the deposit of weekly “rent” in a popular novel, The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine (1886) by Francis Richard Stockton. “And I suppose there is no ginger jar on the mantelpiece.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

gird at = to jeer or jibe. “‘N-o,’ hesitated the lawyer, divided between a desire to gird at the doctor, or to soothe his civic pride.” Alice Harriman, A Man of Two Countries.

give a Roland for someone’s Oliver = to give equal in return for something received; from the fight to a draw between the fictional knights Roland and Oliver. “‘I do,’ said I; but I thought to give this quiet man a Roland for his Oliver, seeing he was so much of a sphinx, and I said no more save that.” Frederick Niven, The Lost Cabin Mine.

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.

give the mitten = to break up with or reject a lover. “You are going to give me the mitten, and make me the laugh of the whole Junction, and all the girls will say that Frank Field jilted me.” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.

give the office = to give a signal or hint. “Bryant gave me the office that some outlaws have come down from Utah.” Roger Pocock, Curly.

give the rinky dink = cheat or swindle a person. “But, say, Mrs. Bridger, you—you ain’t a-goin’ to give the rinky-dink to the Sheriff?” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

glaireous = like egg white. “His face became a dull, bloodless gray, glistening glaireously with clammy sweat.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

glame = natural vitality involving the most vigorous impulse of the life-principle (from Book of General Membership of the Ralston Health Club, 1898). “If you think you can gather some of the gangleonic glame from the aromatic damsels skirting the banks of the San Isabel, you go.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

glance = a shiny sulfide ore of lead, copper, or other metal. “‘D’you mean they’ve found copper glance?’ ‘At a depth of sixty feet? Not exactly.’” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

glanders = a destructive and contagious bacterial disease of horses. “He had a call for a case of a mare with glanders.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Sheriff of Dyke Hole.

glim = a candle, lantern. “‘I’ll have to douse the glim,’ he explained, ‘since I’ll be out around town, and someone might wonder who’s here.’” Adeline Knapp, The Well in the Desert.

glory hole = an open pit produced by surface mining. “Days and days he toiled, and plied the yellow-streaked ore in a great heap by the glory hole.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

go bail = to be absolutely certain. “They’s lots o’ folks ’t can easier drop a tear as a penny, but you ain’t that sort, I’ll go bail to say.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

go cart = a hand cart; a one- two- or four-wheeled vehicle that can be pushed by a person; a stroller, baby walker. “Other men, exulting secretly, piled their goods on two-wheeled go-carts and pulled out blithely enough, only to stall at the first spot where the great round boulders invaded the trail.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

go off the hooks = to die. “I’m not saying you’ll go off the hooks, like some I could mention in your own bunch, but if the man comes along you’ll fall in love all right.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

go it! = a general exclamation of encouragement; Go for it! “‘Hi, Corazon! Go it, boy!’ they yelled.” George Pattullo, The Untamed.

go the pace = to proceed with reckless vigor; to indulge in dissipation. “Often they are men with less power of grasping matters of simple finance and arithmetic than the reckless undergraduate, absorbed in ‘going the pace’.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

go to grass = a dismissive exclamation demanding that someone leave or suggesting that they are talking nonsense. “Y’u go to grass, Mac. I don’t aim to ask y’u to be my valley yet awhile.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

go to Halifax = a mild oath for “go to hell.” “‘Y’u go to Halifax,’ returned Mac genially over his shoulder as he loped away.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

go to hell across lots = a curse sending someone directly to eternal punishment. “He was ready to ‘unsheathe his bowie knife’ and send apostates ‘to hell across lots.’” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

go to Jericho = a euphemism for “go to hell.” “‘You go to Jericho, will you!’ snaps Jabez. ‘You don’t need to think that I’d try to argue any man on earth into workin’ for me.’” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

God’s acre = a churchyard or burial ground. “Curious to learn what distinguished person had found his last resting place here, she entered God’s Acre.” Therese Broderick, The Brand.

going tick = buying on credit. “They get terrible behind, goin’ tick for all they must have.” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.


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: Top-10 recent frontier fiction for 2013


  1. In coastal North Carolina, a formal summer dance held in the tobacco warehouses was called a June German. I was invited to one in Richlands in the late 80's when I was stationed at Camp Lejeune. It was a tradition that was already dead but the local historical society was trying to revive it.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Shay. I would like to witness such an event. Early frontier fiction makes mention of numerous forms of group dancing, usually associated with the social elite. More popular/folk forms have evolved, I guess, into square dancing and now line dancing. Each is a reflection of a rather different social order.

  2. In Carolina it was more of a racial divide...the blacks had Germans and the whites had their own. Attendance at a white German -- and this is based on my own faulty memory -- was restrict to those who could be counted on to dress and behave properly.

    What I *do* remember is that it was HOT. Much too hot for dancing. Our ancestors were made of sterner stuff.