There Comes a Reckoning
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.”