Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Americanisms, Part 2

The American Old West produced many a decorative phrase! If you were angry, you could be proddy, wrathy, techy, prickly, or all horns and rattles (angry cows rattle their horns). If you wanted to enjoy a bit of tobacco, you could fill a blanket or build a smoke by shaking a little Bull Durham into a sheet from your prayer book (packet of cigarette papers) and rolling it up. A flannel mouth or four-flusher was a boaster, and you might want to clean his plow or sharpen his hoe (thoroughly defeat him).

They had a lot of terms for leaving in a hurry - evidently this was quite a common occurrence at that time.

Break down timber/ bust down timber - to head out at such a speed that you take down trees that are in your way

Burn the breeze - to ride fast enough to set the wind on fire

Fixing for high-riding - "fixing" was a general-purpose term that basically meant whatever you wanted it to, from your "fixings" as in your belongings to "fixing to" meaning "going to" - in this sense, it means "getting ready"

Flag your kite - putting a flag on your kite means it's ready to fly

Fogging it or Frogging on - "fogging it" is thought to be a corruption of the term "frogging on" which was commonly used at the end of the century; it means to travel rapidly, particularly on horseback

Get up and dust/ dust out of - to leave nothing behind but a trail of dust

High-tail - when a horse starts to gallop, it throws its tail up high

Hit the breeze - also "hit the trail," which can just mean "to leave"

Hump your tail/ hump yourself - an ornery horse humps up its back before it starts bucking

Jump up a lot of dust - to depart so rapidly that you leave a trail of dust behind you

Kite - literally, to fly away

Light a shuck/ light out - when leaving a campfire, it was common at one time to light a corn shuck (husk) and carry that as a torch to find your way home

Make tracks - to leave nothing of yourself behind except the tracks

Raise the dust - leave a trail of dust behind you

Rattle your hocks - hocks are the ankle bones of a horse

Roll your tail - a cow that is ready to run will roll its tail up near the body

Sail away - as a ship departs under sail

Tail out - a variation of "high-tail"

Take it on the run - "it" being yourself and your belongings

There were also a lot of colorful nicknames for items the Westerners would have bought:

Airtights - canned goods

Arbuckle - a brand of coffee, thus any coffee

Arizona Strawberry, also Arkansas Strawberry, Prairie Strawberry, Mexican Strawberry - beans

John B - a cowboy's hat; from John B. Stetson, a famous hatmaker

Love Apples - canned tomatoes

Lucifer - a strike-anywhere match

Meat Biscuit - canned beef

Mexican iron - rawhide

Prairie Coal/ Buffalo or Cow Chips/ Surface Coal - dried dung of buffalo or cow, full of undigested grass and thus useful for burning

Salt Horse - corned beef

Sinkers - biscuits, supposedly to hard that they sank in liquid

Whiskey and other alcohol had practically their own dictionary of nicknames: 40-rod lightning, anti-fogmatic, baldface, blackstrap, brave-maker, nose paint, rookus juice, tangle-leg, Taos lightning, tarantula juice, tongue oil -- and if you consumed too much, you'd have a brick in your hat.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The 19th Century Guide to Annoying Behaviors

Source: Manners and Morals of Victorian America, Wayne Erbsen, Native Ground Books, 2009

19th Century etiquette books were filled with things to do -- and things not to do. Here are some behaviors that are deemed entirely too annoying. Mr. Erbsen has taken these verbatim from many sources of the era.

"Many a man would give much to be rid of habits fastened upon him in youth, and which have been clogs and fetters, making every step of progress in certain directions toilsome and painful. He has accomplished only half of what he might have accomplished but for these annoying and irritating shackles."

Children and Pets:  "Never allow a child to pull a visitor's dress, play with the jewelry or ornaments she may wear, take her parasol or satchel for a plaything, or in any way annoy her"

"Callers should never take children or pets with them, as they are apt to be very annoying to some people."

"Never allow a child to play with a visitor's hat or cane."

"No dog, however 'dear or interesting' can be admitted to the drawing room, and it is bad taste to have one follow you from home, if you intend to make calls."

"Do not allow your children to be troublesome to visitors; to climb upon them, soil their dresses with their fingers, handle their jewelry and ornaments, ask annoying questions, nor intrude themselves into their private apartments at unseasonable hours. To permit children to follow company about, never giving them a moment of retirement, standing by while they make their toilet, is not only annoying, but is vulgar."

Civility at a Concert: "If you are at a concert, or a private musical party, do not beat time with your feet or a cane upon the floor. It is mighty vexatious."

Cleanliness: "Bad smelling persons are exceedingly disagreeable companions."

"Cleanliness and neatness are the invariable accompaniments of good breeding. Every gentleman may not be dressed expensively, he may not be able to do so; but water is cheap, and no gentleman will ever go into company unmindful of cleanliness either in his person or apparel."

Devil's Tattoo: "Do not beat 'the devil's tattoo' by drumming with your fingers on a table; it cannot fail to annoy everyone within hearing, and it is an index of a vacant mind."

Eating: "Don't eat fruit, or anything else on the public streets. A gentleman on the promenade, engaged in munching an apple or a pear, presents a more amusing than edifying picture."

Ego: "One should by all possible means avoid egotism, for nothing is more displeasing and disgusting. Never make yourself the hero or heroine of your own story. Do not attempt a find flight of language upon ordinary topics."

"There is no surer sign of vulgarity than the perpetual boating of the fine things you have at home -- if you speak of your silver, of your jewelry, of your costly apparel, it will be taken for a sign that you are either lying

Fidgetiness in Public: "Avoid restlessness in company, lest you make the whole party as fidgety as yourself."

"Do not whistle, loll about, scratch your head, or fidget with any portion of your dress while speaking. 'Tis excessively awkward, and indicative or low breeding."

Grinning: "Don't have the habit of smiling or 'grinning' at nothing. Smile or laugh when there is occasion to do either, but at other times keep your mouth shut and your manner composed."

Interrupting: "To interrupt a person when speaking is the height of ill manners, and may justly cause indignation on the part of one so interrupted."

Looking at Your Watch: "It is in bad taste for a caller to preface his or her departure by consulting a watch, remarking, 'Now I must go,' or insinuating that the hostess is weary of the visitor."

Mimicry: "Mimicry is the lowest and most ill-bred of all buffoonery. Swearing, sneering, private affairs either of yourself or any other, have long ago been banished out of the conversation of well-mannered people."

Misery on a Train: "In a railway coach, it is a distinct misery to sit near a party of people who are eating peanuts and scattering shells upon the floor, and the odor of oranges and bananas on a train is nauseating."

"Passengers should not carry anything on the train that would be offensive to others. They should most rigidly avoid boarding the train with dogs of any kind, whether spaniels, pointers, or poodles."

Nail Biting: Biting the nails is one of the most annoying habits, and yet one which almost any boy will fall into unless his mother 'nips it in the bud.' A habit of tapping the floor with the foot, or the table with the knuckles, comes on gradually, but, once fixed, is exceedingly difficult to overcome. 'Eternal vigilance' should be a mother's watchword, for the true secret of curing bad habits is in never allowing them to be formed. The 'ounce of prevention' is worth more than the 'pound of cure.'

Smoking: "One may never smoke in the company of the fair. One must never smoke in the streets, that is, in daylight. The deadly crime may be committed, like burglary, after dark, but not before. One must never smoke in a closed carriage. Besides being coarse and atrocious, smoking is very bad for the health."

"The tobacco smoker, in public, is the most selfish animal imaginable; he perseveres in contaminating the pure and fragrant air, careless whom he annoys, and is but the fitting inmate of a tavern."

Vulgar Acts: When committed in the presence of others, the following acts were classed as vulgarities.
·      To stand or sit with feet wide apart
·      To hum, whistle, or sing in suppressed tones
·      To use profane language, or stronger expression than the occasion justifies
·      To chew tobacco and spit
·      To correct inaccuracies in the speech of others
·      To stand with arms akimbo
·      To lounge, or yawn, or do anything which shows disrespect or indifference

Whispering. "Do not read the newspaper in an audible whisper, as it disturbs the attention of those near you. Remember, that a carelessness as to what may incommode others is the sure sign of a coarse and ordinary mind."

"It is rude to whisper or talk during a performance. It is discourteous to the performers, and annoying to those of the audience around you, who desire to enjoy the entertainment. To seek to draw attention to yourself at a place of amusement is simply vulgar."

"There cannot be a custom more vulgar or offensive than that of taking a person aside to whisper, in a room with company; yet this rudeness is of too frequent occurrence."