Old West Slang

1860’s ~ 1880’s

Ace-high ~ first class, respected.

According to Hoyle ~ Correct, by the book.

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.”

All down but nine ~ missed the point, not understood. (Reference to missing all nine pins at bowling.)

Arbuckle’s ~ slang for coffee, taken from a popular brand of the time. “I need a cup of Arbuckle’s.”

At sea ~ at a loss, not comprehending. “When it comes to understanding women, boys, I am at sea.”

Back down ~ yield, retract.

Balled up ~ confused.

Bang-up ~ first rate. “They did a bang-up job.”

Bazoo ~ mouth. “Shut your big bazoo.”

Bear sign ~ cowboy term for donuts. A cook who could and would make them was highly regarded.

Beat the devil around the stump ~ to evade responsibility or a difficult task. “Quit beatin’ the devil around the stump and ask that girl to marry you.”

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.”

Bender ~ drunk. “He’s off on another bender.”

Between hay and grass ~ neither man nor boy, half-grown.

Best bib and tucker ~ your best clothes. “There’s a dance Saturday, so put on your best bib and tucker.”

Big bug ~ important person, official, boss. “He’s one of the railroad big bugs.”

Bilk ~ cheat.

Blow ~ boast, brag. “Don’t listen to him, that’s just a lot of blow.”

Blowhard ~ braggart, bully.

Blow-up ~ fit of anger. “He and the missus had a blow-up, but it’s over, now.”

Bone orchard ~ cemetery.

Bosh ~ Nonsense.

Boss ~ the best, top. “The Alhambra Saloon sells the boss whiskey in town.”

Bulldoze ~ to bully, threaten, coerce.

Bully ~ Exceptionally good, outstanding. (Used as an exclamation.) “Bully for you!”

Bunko artist ~ con man.

Burg ~ town.

By hook or crook ~ to do any way possible.

Calaboose ~ jail.

California widow ~ woman separated from her husband, but not divorced. (From when pioneer men went West, leaving their wives to follow later.)

Chisel, chiseler ~ to cheat or swindle, a cheater.

Clean his/your plow ~ to get or give a thorough whippin’.

Coffee boiler ~ shirker, lazy person. (Would rather sit around the coffee pot than help.)

Consumption ~ slang for pulminary tuberculosis.

Copper a bet ~ betting to lose, or prepare against loss. “I’m just coppering my bets.”

Come a cropper ~ come to ruin, fail, or fall heavily. “He had big plans to get rich, but it all come a cropper, when the railroad didn’t come through.”

Croaker ~ pessimist, doomsayer. “Don’t be such an old croaker.”

Crowbait ~ derogatory term for a poor-quality horse.

Curly wolf ~ real tough guy, dangerous man. “Ol’ Bill is a regular curly wolf, especially when he’s drinkin’ whiskey.”

Cut a swell ~ present a fine figure. “He sure is cutting a swell with the ladies.”

Dicker ~ barter, trade.

Difficulty ~ euphamism for trouble, often the shootin’ or otherwise violent kind. “He had to leave Texas on account of a difficulty with a gambler in San Antonio.”

Directly ~ soon. “She’ll be down, directly.”

Deadbeat ~ bum, layabout, useless person.

Dinero ~ from the Spanish, a word for money.

Don’t care a continental ~ Don’t give a damn.

Down on ~ opposed to. “His wife is really down on drinking and cigars.”

Doxology works ~ a church.

Dragged out ~ fatigued, worn out.

Dreadful ~ very. “Oh, her dress is dreadfully pretty.”

Dry gulch ~ to ambush. Reference from abandoning a body where it fell.

Dude ~ an Easterner, or anyone in up-scale town clothes, rather than plain range-riding or work clothes.

Eucher, euchered ~ to out-smart someone, to be outwitted or suckered into something.

Fandango ~ from the Spanish, a big party with lots of dancing and excitement.

Fetch ~ bring, give. “Fetch me that hammer.” / “He fetched him a punch in the nose.”

Fight like Kilkenny cats ~ fight like hell.

Fine as cream gravy ~ very good, top notch.

Fish ~ a cowboy’s rain slicker, from a rain gear manufacturer whose trademark was a fish logo. “We told him it looked like rain, but left his fish in the wagon anyhow.”

Flannel mouth ~ an overly smooth or fancy talker, especially politicians or salesmen. “I swear that man is a flannel-mouthed liar.”

Flush ~ prosperous, rich.

Fork over ~ pay out.

Four-flusher ~ a cheat, swindler, liar.

Full as a tick ~ very drunk.

Fuss ~ disturbance. “They had a little fuss at the saloon.”

Game ~ to have courage, guts, gumption. “He’s game as a banty rooster.” Or, “That’s a hard way to go, but he died game.”

Get a wiggle on ~ hurry.

Get it in the neck ~ get cheated, misled, bamboozled.

Get my/your back up ~ to get angry. “Don’t get your back up, he was only joking.”

Get the mitten ~ to be rejected by a lover. “Looks like Blossom gave poor Buck the mitten.”

Give in ~ yield.

Goner ~ lost, dead.

Gone up the flume ~ same as goner!

Gospel mill ~ a church.

Gospel sharp ~ a preacher. (Apparent opposite of a card sharp!)

Got the bulge ~ have the advantage. “We’ll get the bulge on him, and take his gun away.”

Go through the mill ~ gain experience. (Often the hard way.)

Grand ~ excellent, beautiful. “Oh, the Christmas decorations look just grand!”

Granger ~ a farmer.

Grass widow ~ divorcee.

Hang around ~ loiter.

Hang fire ~ delay.

Half seas over ~ drunk.

Hard case ~ worthless person, bad man.

Heap ~ a lot, many, a great deal. “He went through a heap of trouble to get her that piano.”

Heeled ~ to be armed with a gun. “He wanted to fight me, but I told him I was not heeled.”

Here’s how! ~ a toast, such as Here’s to your health.

Hobble your lip ~ shut up.

Hold a candle to ~ measure up, compare to.

Hoosegow ~ jail.

Hot as a whorehouse on nickel night ~ damned hot.

In apple pie order ~ in top shape.

Is that a bluff, or do you mean it for real play? ~ Are you serious?

Jig is up ~ scheme/game is over, exposed.

Kick up a row ~ create a disturbance.

Knocked into a cocked hat ~ fouled up, rendered useless.

Knock galley west ~ beat senseless.

Let slide/ let drive/ let fly ~ go ahead, let go. “If you think you want trouble, then let fly.”

Light (or lighting) a shuck ~ to get the hell out of here in a hurry. “I’m lightin’ a shuck for California.”

Like a thoroughbred ~ like a gentleman.

Lunger ~ slang for someone with tuberculosis.

Make a mash ~ make a hit, impress someone. (Usually a female.) “Buck’s tryin’ to make a mash on that new girl.”

Mudsill ~ low-life, thoroughly disreputable person.

Nailed to the counter ~ proven a lie.

Namby-pamby ~ sickly, sentimental, saccharin.

Odd stick ~ eccentric person. “Ol’ Farmer Jones sure is an odd stick.”

Of the first water ~ first class. “He’s a gentleman of the first water.”

Offish ~ distant, reserved, aloof.

Oh-be-joyful ~ Liquor, beer, intoxicating spirits. “Give me another snort of that oh-be-joyful.”

On the shoot ~ looking for trouble. “Looks like he’s on the shoot, tonight.”

Pass the buck ~ evade responsibility.

Pay through the nose ~ to over-pay, or pay consequences.

Peter out ~ dwindle away.

Play to the gallery ~ to show off. “That’s just how he is, always has to play to the gallery.”

Played out ~ exhausted.

Plunder ~ personal belongings. “Pack your plunder, Joe, we’re headin’ for San Francisco.”

Pony up ~ hurry up!

Powerful ~ very. “He’s a powerful rich man.”

Promiscuous ~ reckless, careless. “He was arrested for a promiscuous display of fire arms.”

Proud ~ glad. “I’m proud to know you.”

Pull in your horns ~ back off, quit looking for trouble.

Put a spoke in the wheel ~ to foul up or sabotage something.

Quirley ~ roll-your-own cigarette.

Rich ~ amusing, funny, improbable. “Oh, that’s rich!”

Ride shank’s mare ~ to walk or be set afoot.

Right as a trivet ~ right as rain, sound as a nut, stable.

Rip ~ reprobate. “He’s a mean ol’ rip.”

Roostered ~ drunk. “Looks like those cowboys are in there gettin’ all roostered up.”

See the elephant ~ originally meant to see combat for the first time, later came to mean going to town, where all the action was.

Scoop in ~ trick, entice, inveigle. “He got scooped into a poker game and lost his shirt.”

Scuttlebutt ~ rumors.

Shave tail ~ a green, inexperienced person.

Shin out ~ run away.

Shindy ~ uproar, confusion.

Shoddy ~ poor quality.

Shoot, Luke, or give up the gun ~ poop or get off the pot, do it or quit talking about it.

Shoot one’s mouth off ~ talk nonsense, untruth. “He was shootin’ his mouth off and Bill gave him a black eye.”

Shove the queer ~ to pass counterfeit money.

Simon pure ~ the real thing, a genuine fact. “This is the Simon pure.”

Skedaddle ~ run like hell.

Soaked ~ drunk.

Soft solder ~ flattery. “All that soft solder won’t get you anywhere.”

Someone to ride the river with ~ a person to be counted on; reliable; got it where it counts.

Sound on the goose ~ true, staunch, reliable.

Stand the gaff ~ take punishment in good spirit. “He can really stand the gaff.”

Stop ~ stay. “We stopped at the hotel last night.”

Stumped ~ confused.

Superintend ~ oversee, supervise. “He just likes to superintend everything.”

Take on ~ grieve. “Don’t take on so.”

Take French leave ~ to desert, sneak off without permission.

Take the rag off ~ surpass, beat all. “Well, if that don’t take the rag off the bush.”

The Old States ~ back East.

The whole kit and caboodle ~ the entire thing.

Throw up the sponge ~ quit, give up, surrender.

Tie to ~ rely on. “He’s a man you can tie to.”

To beat the Dutch ~ to beat the band. “It was rainin’ to beat the Dutch.”

To the manner born ~ a natural. “He’s a horseman to the manner born.”

Twig ~ understand.

Up the spout ~ gone to waste/ruin.

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.”

Wind up ~ settle. “Let’s wind up this business and go home.”

Old West Slang

There Comes a Reckoning LoganG