Saturday, March 8, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: L
(light-o’-love – lyed corn)

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.”

light-o’-love = a woman inconstant in love. “‘His palace,’ came the arresting, accusing, stern tones of Campbell, ‘the palace that he built for his light-o’love.’” Nancy Mann Waddell Woodrow, The New Missioner.

lighter = a barge or other unpowered boat used to transfer cargo to and from ships in harbor. “A lighter grounded on Alki Point; he has been helping to float her.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

lightning artist = an artist-entertainer who draws subjects very quickly. “A lightning artist appeared, drawing caricatures and portraits with incredible swiftness.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

lights and liver = stuffings; literally, lungs and liver. “O’ course ’t ain’t calc’lated t’ sweeten a feller’s temper none t’ have his dog handled, his worst outlaw rid, ’n’ t’ have th’ hull lites ’n’ liver o’ his conceit ’bout bein’ th’ best gun shot on th’ desert kicked plumb outen him at one kick.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman.

limit = a tract or allotment granted for the cutting of timber. “Kent’s tender for the choice Wind River limits was accepted, somewhat to his surprise and to Crooks’s profane amazement.” A. M. Chisholm, The Boss of Wind River.

line out = to leave, depart. “I has only time to make camp, saddle up, an’ line out of thar, to keep from bein’ burned before my time.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

line out / line up = to scold, discipline, punish. “What do you mean by usin’ such langwidge? I’ll line you out for this.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

liquidate = to drink. “We passed into the bar and liquidated.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

lisle thread = a strong, tightly twisted cotton thread, named after the town in France where it was first manufactured. “From lisle-thread stockings; from round, tight garters; from brilliant brass belts; Kind Devil, deliver me.” Mary MacLane, The Story of Mary MacLane.

listeners = ears. “His listeners ’peared t’ be workin’ all right, fo’ sometimes he’d loosen up t’ th’ extent o’ a ‘yes’ o’ ‘nop,’ but that was all.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman.

“Little Annie Rooney” = music hall song from 1890, by Michael Nolan; popular also in the US. “He rattled ‘Playmates’ off, and then he switched to ‘Annie Rooney.’” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

Sheet music, 1853
“Little More Cider, A” = a popular 19th-century song, published in 1853. “In the early days of the march they sang with spirit, to the tune of ‘A Little More Cider,’ the hymn of the hand-cart written by one of their number.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Little White Bird, The = a novel by Scottish author and dramatist J. M. Barrie (1860-1937), published in 1902. “Helen was sitting beside him in an easy chair, and he watched the play of her face in the lamplight as she read from ‘The Little White Bird’.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

J. M. Barrie, 1901
Little Willie = a genre of macabre short verse, usually involving children, originated by English writer Harry Graham (1874-1936). “Used to follow him down to the midnight train at St. Joe, gist to hear him speak ‘Little Willie’ to the ticket agent.” Cy Warman, Frontier Stories.

lo-the-poor-Indian = a reference to 18th century English poet Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man: “Lo! The poor Indian, whose untutored mind sees God in the clouds, or hears him in the wind.” “Denver, I’ll take care of these beauties while y’u step into the pantry with Mrs. Lo-the-poor-Indian and put up a lunch.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

loafer = a subspecies of the wolf, also known as the buffalo wolf and Great Plains wolf.  “The night silence was rent by the hunting cry of the loafer.” George Pattullo, The Untamed.

lobelia = an herbal remedy for respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and cough; also called Indian tobacco. “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.

log cabin = a patchwork or quilting pattern in which pieces of material are arranged to give the effect of pieces of wood formed into adjoining squares. “‘Yo’ new log-cabin quilt, Mrs. Kinchley,’ interposed Mrs. Red Parsons volubly, ‘is the prettiest quilt.” Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters.

logy = slow, lethargic. “Is it that we’re getting on, a little long in the tooth, logy in our movements?” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Lombroso, Cesare = an Italian criminologist (1835-1909), who held that a criminal could be identified by physical defects. “His wife looks like a horse with a straw bonnet on and he ought to be jailed on sight if there’s anything to Lombroso’s theories.” Caroline Lockhart, The Lady Doc.

London alphabet = a children’s book with a page for each letter of the alphabet, printed in red and illustrated with drawings of London landmarks. “Even the remittance-men, who had been wont to spell amusement in the red letters of the London alphabet, were there.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

Original Lone Star brewery
Lone Star = the beer; Lone Star Brewery, built in 1884, was the first large, mechanized brewery in Texas, founded by Adolphus Busch with a group of San Antonio businessmen. “Vaughan selected a vacant space between the picture of a female with floating hair and preternaturally large eyes, offering an open box of ‘Lone Star,’ and a presentment of ‘Highland Whiskies: The Best,’ and tacked up the notice.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

Walt Whitman, c1887
long brown path = reference to Walt Whitman’s “the long brown path that leads wherever I choose” from Song of the Open Road. “She was one of those restless, variable beings to whom the ‘long, brown path,’ with its thousand possibilities and surprises, makes an irresistible appeal.” Nancy Mann Waddell Woodrow, The New Missioner.

long chalk = a large amount; from “chalk,” the amount of credit extended to a bar patron. “He wasn’t so unimpressed by your story as he seemed—not by a long chalk!” S. Carleton Jones, Out of Drowning Valley.

long clothes = clothing worn by an infant, extending below the feet. “‘Compose myself!’ she cried. ‘And me through the war when you was in long clothes.’” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

long eared = clever. “He questioned the soundness of Nora’s philosophy and swore by his Puritan gods that Torvald was the longest-eared jack in two hemispheres.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

long purse = wealth, riches. “He made the most of such opportunities for the exercising of his gift as came to one for whom the long purse leveled most barriers.” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

long sleever = large drinking glass. “‘We’re having lively times, John,’ said the doctor, after emptying his ‘long sleever.’” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

long yearlings = steers between the ages of two and three years. “On other occasions the herd would consist of a certain kind, such as long yearlings, short yearlings, tail end and scabs.” Nat Love, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love.

long-headed = discerning, shrewd. “Peets, he shorely is the longest-headed sharp I ever sees.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

lookout = the person who supervises betting at faro. “While the ‘lookout’ lazily lolled in his chair, / And his cigarette smoke melted into the air.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

lop = to bend. “I nacherally wrestles him down an’ lops one of his front laigs over his antlers.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

Lorelei, c1900
Lorelei = a siren of German legend who combed her copper hair atop a rock above the Rhine and lured men to their death. “He watched her for a moment as she sat on a box braiding her long fair hair, vaguely recalling the legend of the Lorelei.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

lot on = to count on, rely on. “She ain’t lottin’ much on me nohow.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

loup cervier = the Canada lynx. “They set about skinning the loup-cervier, and spread the pelt upon the floor for a robe.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

loup garou = werewolf; a creature able to change appearance from wolf to human and back again. “And has not Jacques told me of how you killed the loup-garou; of how you are hated by Moncrossen, and feared by Creed?” James Hendryx, The Promise.

low watch = the hours after midnight for riding guard on the herd. “So the low watch turned in to rest until midnight, when they were to relieve the upper watch, in whose hands the safety of the camp was placed till that time.” Nat Love, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love.

lubber = a fool. “Thet little gal mustn’t marry thet lubber with the money.” Pauline Wilson Worth, Death Valley Slim and Other Stories.

luck cage = an hourglass-shaped cage containing three dice, used in the gambling game chuck a luck. “In tents, back rooms and overhead could be heard the b-r-r-r-r of the little ivory marble as it spun a circuit over the roulette wheel, and the luck cages, where the idle sports turned them over for their own amusement, to pass away the time.” Oscar Micheaux, The Conquest.

luff = to bring the head of a ship nearer to the wind. “Mason leaned forward with a low exclamation; then, no longer able to hold himself, he lifted his voice in a hoarse shout. ‘Luff, luff ’er.’” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

lug = ear. “Them lugs o’ yours is gettin’ old.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

lump-jaw = a fungus infection in forage-eating animals, causing swelling of the jaw. “‘Love is a terrible disease,’ Tubbs spoke with the emphasis of conviction. ‘It’s worse’n lump-jaw er blackleg.” Caroline Lockhart, Me—Smith.

lunger = someone with an illness, specifically a pulmonary disease. “Maam, Im sorry for you, but I wouldnt really have picked you out for a lunger.” Emerson Hough, Heart’s Desire.

lurcher = hooligan, bum. “It must gall you—that lurcher not being dead!” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

lyed corn = corn steeped in weak lye to remove the husks; hominy. “The deep snow made it impossible to get much game, so that in less than two weeks our little supply of lyed corn was almost exhausted.” John Neihardt, The Lonesome Trail.


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: Robert Mitchum, The Wonderful Country (1959)


  1. A lot of new ones to me here. Logy I've heard.

  2. Here's a Little Willie limerick:
    Little Willie with a grin,
    Drank up all his daddy's gin.
    His Daddy said when he was plastered,
    Go to bed you little . . . love child.

  3. Thanks for putting Lone Star Beer on the list, without it I would have been shut out - nice list, again.