Saturday, January 4, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: G
( gold cure – “The Gypsy Countess”)

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.”

gold cure = treatment of alcoholism consisting of hypodermic injections of strychnine and atropine, the solution being gold in color; also “jag cure.” “I took my friend Major Hampton’s advice, availed myself of the gold cure at his expense, an’ by the great horn spoon, I’ll never drink nary another drop.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

gold tip = cigarette holder. “They out with their gold tips after lunch, and maybe you think they don’t know how.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

golden glow = a tall plant cultivated for its large, yellow double flower heads. “He’d better screen the fence with golden glow, set out pretty thick the whole way, between the nasturtiums and the fence.” Samuel Merwin, The Road-Builders.

golondrina = a poisonous weed native to the Southwest; used formerly to treat rattlesnake bite. “The little pinto one had died of a rattlesnake bite, from which no golondrina weed had been able to save it.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.

gomme / gum = a sugar syrup with gum arabic as an emulsifier used in many classic cocktails. “You’ll get your death-a-cold if you stand round soaked like that. Two whiskey and gum, Joe.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

“Gone With the Gypsy Davey” = a traditional ballad about a married woman who takes a gypsy lover. “Tonight I shall lie on the cold, cold ground / In the arms of a Gypsy Davy-O!” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

good Indian = dead man. “Still, knowing what Tom can do with a gun, I’m inclined to think that Cross is all same good Indian.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

1876 edition
good of the order = (Roberts Rules of Order) time set aside for comments about the organization, or to offer resolutions for disciplinary actions against members. “Then Peets allows he’s like to hear from any gent onder the head of ‘good of the order.’” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

goodness godness = a mild oath. “Luckily a woman don’t have the least trouble findin’ out a man’s weak points, and Greg has a few, thank the goodness godness.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

goose = a mild expletive. “I guess I don’t like being turned down for once. Goose.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

goose gun = a long-barreled shot gun, so designed for shooting geese in flight. “Yust wait, you faller. Ay gat my goose gun, and Ay blow you all to hal!” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

gooseberry = a third party who is not wanted by, or feels uncomfortable with, a couple. “I won’t, although, believe me, the role of gooseberry is no cinch.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Chicken Little characters, 1915
Goosey-Poosey = one of the fowl who join Chicken Little in raising the alarm that the sky is falling. “The four, in a somewhat cocky-locky, goosey-poosey procession, set out for the home of Silas Evans.” Nancy Mann Waddell Woodrow, The New Missioner.

gopher = an offensive or stupid person. “What, do they take us for a lot of ‘gophers’?” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

Gorham Silver = a manufacturer of sterling and silverplate, founded in Providence, Rhode Island in 1831. “This evening she went so far as to make tea for two, laying an extra place on the other side of her little tea-table, setting out a cup and saucer and one of the Gorham silver spoons.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

gosh a livin’s = a mild oath. “‘Gosh-a-livin’s!’ he exclaimed as a new thought struck him.” Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn.

gosh all fish hooks = a mild oath (God Almighty). “The major knows what he’s talkin’ ’bout. Gosh all fish hooks!” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

gosh all Friday = a mild oath (God Almighty). “Why, Gosh all Friday, what’s happened to your horse?” Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn.

gosh all hemlock = a mile expletive (God Almighty). “‘Gosh all hemlock!’ he exclaimed, lost to any consideration of his words in the wild excitement that possessed him.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

gospel mill = a church. “Nick rubbed astonished eyes. ‘By gum, a Gospel-mill!’ ‘Aye, and filled to overflowing every Sabbath, Nicholas,’ proudly stated good Maclane.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

got up regardless = furnished at great expense. “‘Yes,’ remarked a gentleman who joined them during this speech, and whose brand-new hunting suit bespoke the ‘got-up-regardless’ tourist.” Marah Ellis Ryan, Told in the Hills.

gotch ear = in animals, a drooping ear, caused by an infestation of ticks that have undermined the supporting cartilages. “I jest nachally hope never to cock another gun if that thar little ol’ Circuit hain’t got a gal that’s stuck to him tighter’n a tick makin’ a gotch ear.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

Gothic self-abandonment = the heedless enthusiasm with which Teutonic warriors were believed to throw themselves into battle. “The two old men understood what they saw even if they had never heard of the ‘Gothic self-abandonment’ which was the inheritance of White Weasel.” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.

government bouquet = Army issue soap. “I administered unto my little fellow-convict a scrubbing down with government bouquet.” Will Levington Comfort, Trooper Tales.

graded herd = cattle improved by breeding. “Comp’ny ain’t what that dude’s after. He’s after a big ranch and a graded herd.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

grampus = any of several unpleasant creatures including the killer whale, the giant whip scorpion, and a giant salamander, with a flat body and head, beady dorsal eyes and slimy skin. “‘Nice little woman,’ he reflected. ‘Too nice too associate with that grampus.’” Henry Herbert Knibbs, Overland Red.

granny knot = a square knot with the ends crossed the wrong way and therefore liable to slip or jam. “It does look mighty queer that the painter should slip. Jack Cranch ain’t the man to tie a granny knot.” Bret Harte, Frontier Stories.

granolithic = a mixture of crushed granite and cement. “At that moment she saw her hero stage driver shooting out tobacco squids at the innocent granolithic.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.

grass-bellied = bloated, big-bellied. “Their gaunt, hammer-headed, grass-bellied, cat-hammed, roach-backed ponies went with them when they took their departure.” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.

grass-bellied with spot cash = rich, having plenty of money. “Just as a loan, Doc—some of it. I’m grass-bellied with spot-cash.” Owen Wister, Lin McLean.

grass cloth = a loosely woven fabric made with grass or vegetable fibers. “The little den behind the drawing-room had but one occupant besides the rear-end brakeman—a tall, saturnine man in a gray grass-cloth duster.” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

grass widow = a woman who is separated, divorced, or lives apart from her husband. “Very near the stove sprawled old Mizzou, low-foreheaded, white-bearded, talking always of women and the merits of grass-widows and school-ma’ams.” Stewart Edward White, The Westerners.

Arctic grayling
grayling = a silvery-gray fresh water fish with horizontal violet stripes and a long, high dorsal fin. “The grayling aleap in the river, The bighorn asleep on the hill.” Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon.

grease one’s holler = to have a drink. “I ast him to come over and have one with me. He said O.K., that suited him. So we greased our hollers a few times.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

greasewood = a shrub growing in arid regions, with spiny branches and succulent green leaves, flowering June to August. “The country was rough, and the buck-brush grew thick, with here and there a large patch of greasewood.” W. C. Tuttle, Thicker Than Water.

Great Eastern = the largest ocean-going vessel in the 19th century, capable of transporting 4,000 passengers around the world without refueling. “He was a gentleman of chronic woes, and in the first hour of acquaintance told me sorrows enough to have swamped the Great Eastern had she tried to carry them all.” Charles Lummis, A Tramp Across the Continent.

great white way = a self-indulgent and hedonistic life that leads one astray. “‘Ah, Dear! wasn’t it a splendid thing when he was thrown out of his rut of wastefulness?’ ‘Otherwise known as the primrose path, or the great white way.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.

green corn dance = a Native American ceremonial dance expressing supplication or thanksgiving for the corn/maize crop. “This Colonel of mine don’t get no pianer; don’t round-up no music of his own; but stands pat an’ pulls off reels, an’ quadrilles, an’ green-corn dances to Hamilton’s music goin’ on next door.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

Hetty Green, c1905
green goods = counterfeit money. “They are waiting for you in the wicked town—they can see you coming. The next ones will spring a real live game, green goods, or wire tapping.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

Green, Hetty = an American businesswoman (1834-1916), remarkable for her frugality during the Gilded Age, as well as for being the first American woman to make a substantial impact on Wall Street. “He claims he owns an antimony proposition that if developed ull make J. Peerpunt Morgan take a back seat and Hetty Green look like thirty cents.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.

Kate Greenaway, "Pied Piper"
Greenaway, Kate = English illustrator of children’s books (1846-1901). “The flowers, a daily offering from the Barkers and Mrs. Wellman and from the Chisholm conservatories, Martha was allowed to put into empty bottles and set up around the room, like a Kate Greenaway frieze.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

greener = a tenderfoot. “He hates a greener. He thinks no wan but an owld hand has any business in th’ woods.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

Greener = a rifle or shotgun developed and manufactured in England by the W.W. Greener family, starting in 1829. “She brought him the famous double-barrelled Greener which, having disarranged the lock action in trying to clean it, Danvers had left with the trustee for repairs.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

greenery-yallery = over-refined, unmanly; reference to the favorite colors, green and yellow, of Pre-Raphaelite British painters and satirized by Gilbert and Sullivan. “So I saw myself, if not a ‘greenery yallery, oh such a good young man’ as—in the phrase of old women—a ‘good son.’” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

green-up = a plant in the early stages of growth. “Well, you don’t know my little sister. She’s a green-up when it comes to city ways.” Hattie Horner Louthan, This Was a Man!

griping = clutching tightly. “Maud Eliza, certain that the battle was about to be renewed, caught her breath in a sort of ecstasy, then threw her dingy apron over her head and relapsed into griping convulsions of unrestrained giggles.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

Grosgrain ribbons
grosgrain = a closely woven silk fabric with narrow horizontal ribs. “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.

guajillo = a chili pepper widely used in Mexican cuisine. “Where the sweet scent of the juajilla loads the air, and the sun ever shines down out of a bright and cloudless sky.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

gum = a long rubber boot. “Let me help you off with your gums, Missioner.” Nancy Mann Waddell Woodrow, The New Missioner.

Gunpowder tea = a form of green Chinese tea in which each leaf has been rolled into a small round pellet, resembling grains of black powder. “I tell Council as I git older I don’t seem to enjoy the Young Hyson n’r Gunpowder. I want the reel green tea, jest as it comes off’n the vines.” Hamlin Garland, Main-Travelled Roads.

Gunter, Archibald C. = English-born American and prolific writer of popular plays and novels (1847-1907). “From the books of Archibald C. Gunter and Albert Ross: Kind Devil, deliver me.” Mary MacLane, The Story of Mary MacLane.

gut = a channel of water, a strait. “The next moment it leaped clear of the water and plunged blindly into the whirling tossing pandemonium of the white-water gut.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

guts = undercarriage of railroad cars on which tramps hitched a ride. “His comrade left him lying there, And took the guts of an Eastbound train.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

gutta-percha = A rubbery substance derived from the latex of any of several tropical trees, used as an electrical insulator, as a waterproofing compound, and for phonograph records. “Rummaging about, his hand struck one of the round, gutta-percha plates which had accompanied the phonograph.” Emerson Hough, Heart’s Desire.

“Gypsy Countess, The” = a ballad of a nobleman’s lady who runs off with a band of gypsies; collected in Oxford Book of Ballads, 1910. “Those who did not hear The Gypsy Countess in their youth would never know from cold type and paper what its charms are.” Grace and Alice MacGowan, Aunt Huldah.


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: Richard S. Wheeler, The Richest Hill on Earth


  1. Golondrina. Using poisonous material to treat poisoning is almost certainly a descendant of sympathetic magic. Interesting where this kind of thing comes from.

  2. I will have to look for it, but there's a reference in one of the Irish RM books by Ross and Somerville to Major Yeates' borrowed hunter, which makes a noise like a grampus while being ridden at the gallop.

    (And I have un-fond memories of having to administer atropine as part of my duties as Officer of the Day, back in Okinawa in the early 80's. It didn't work then, either).