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"
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.