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.


  1. really interesting to know about the life of 1800’s their fashion, culture & occupations. Nice presentation by the story teller.

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