Saturday, November 14, 2009
Ever wish you could talk like a crusty old 1840's prospector? Me too! Here is a list of slang from the Old West to get us started towards our goal of being genuine, grizzled frontier folk!
Definition: to curse
Etymology: ; "Dad” is a substitute for “God” in turn-of-the-century Southern U.S. vernacular. “Godburn” certainly sounds like Old-Testament-style divine retribution; ie, to curse.
Use it in a sentence: “Dadburned boll weevil done ‘et my crop!”
Definition: To embarrass, disconcert or confuse.
Etymology: Belongs to a group of “fancified” words popular in the 19th century American West, invented to ridicule sophisticates back east. (Funny, it didn’t quite work out that way.)
Use it in a sentence: “I’ll be hornswoggled!”
Definition: A big finish.
Etymology: A mis-heard, semi-spoonerism of the word “doxologer,” a colloquial New England rendering of “doxology,” which was a Puritan term for the collective raising of voices in song at the end of a worship service. Thus, a “sockdolager” is something truly exceptional — the end-all-be-all.
Use it in a sentence: “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologisin’ old man-trap!”
Fun fact: The above line appears in Tom Taylor’s play Our American Cousin, which was performed on the evening of April 14th, 1865 at Ford’s Theater. It got a big laugh from the crowd, which John Wilkes Booth used to muffle the sound of the gunshot that assassinated President Lincoln.
Definition: The whole of something, though often misused as “damn.”
Etymology: Unknown, though it pops up in British literature as early as the eighteenth century. An educated guess: it’s related to concern, a business establishment or enterprise.
Use it in a quip by 19th century American humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw: “Put an Englishman into the Garden of Eden, and he would find fault with the whole blarsted consarn!”
Definition: Used up
Etymology: Also unknown, though it was coined during the Great Neologism Craze of the 1830s, and its common usage didn’t survive the turn of the century.
Use it in a sentence: “Ye’d best put that dumfungled hoss out to past
Good! Practice these for a while until the words are a regular part of your daily vocabulary. Now that these basics are down you are ready to move on to some more advanced prospector-speak (flash cards may be helpful in memorizing some of these).
A hog-killin' time ~ a real good time. "We went to the New Year's Eve dance and had us a hog-killin' time."
A lick and a promise ~ to do haphazardly. "She just gave it a lick and a promise."
Arbuckle's ~ slang for coffee, taken from a popular brand of the time. "I need a cup of Arbuckle's."
Bazoo ~ mouth. "Shut your big bazoo."
Beef ~ to kill. (From killing a cow to make beef to eat.) "Curly Bill beefed two men in San Antonio."
Bend an elbow ~ have a drink. "He's been known to bend an elbow with the boys."
Coffee boiler ~ shirker, lazy person. (Would rather sit around the coffee pot than help.)
Bunko artist ~ con man.
Curly wolf ~ real tough guy, dangerous man. "Ol' Bill is a regular curly wolf, especially when he's drinkin' whiskey."
Don't care a continental ~ Don't give a damn.
Doxology works ~ a church.
Dry gulch ~ to ambush. Reference from abandoning a body where it fell.
Eucher, euchered ~ to out-smart someone, to be outwitted or suckered into something.
Fight like Kilkenny cats ~ fight like hell.
Fine as cream gravy ~ very good, top notch.
Flannel mouth ~ an overly smooth or fancy talker, especially politicians or salesmen. "I swear that man is a flannel-mouthed liar."
Full as a tick ~ very drunk.
Half seas over ~ drunk.
Here's how! ~ a toast, such as Here's to your health.
Hoosegow ~ jail.
Hot as a whorehouse on nickel night ~ damned hot.
Mudsill ~ low-life, thoroughly disreputable person.
Quirley ~ roll-your-own cigarette.
Shoot, Luke, or give up the gun ~ shit or get off the pot, do it or quit talking about it.
Sound on the goose ~ true, staunch, reliable.
Take French leave ~ to desert, sneak off without permission.
Throw up the sponge ~ quit, give up, surrender.
To beat the Dutch ~ to beat the band. "It was rainin' to beat the Dutch."
Twig ~ understand.
Wake up/Woke up the wrong passenger ~ to trouble or anger the wrong person.
Who-hit-John ~ Liquor, beer, intoxicating spirits. "He had a little too much who-hit-John."
You have all that memorized? Good! Next step: grow an enormous beard, pull out a few teeth, discontinue bathing and contract rickets.