A discussion of western exclamations...
What do you say when you don't know what to say? The casual profanity common today was taboo in the Old West, most especially in the presence of women and children...and "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" had yet to be invented.
Many of the terms commonly heard today were considered profanity in that era. For instance, one did not take God's name in vain, so euphemisms for God and his rival the Devil abounded. One most certainly did not use the word "damn," and as for the even more vulgar terms heard in today's society ... forget about it. However, a few of the terms we consider coarse or vulgar today once meant something entirely different. One of the first to come to mind is, of course, "gay," but there were other words and phrases which once had wildly different meanings than they do today. A gentleman, and most Western males aspired to be one, knew which words he could use and which were taboo.
A gentleman did not even discuss such things as sex, gender, or certain body parts in public. A bull was often called a "cow critter," and a leg was a limb. At one point in the century, even the legs of furniture were covered lest someone see more than they should. A Western gentleman was far more polite than many men you'll meet today. Part of this, it is to be admitted, was due to the ready availability of the six-gun and the ready acceptance of the use of the same. If you felt that a man showed less than sterling manner, you were not only entitled to "call him out," but were expected to do so. This resulted in an extremely polite population.
People did not curse in public, but substituted a more acceptable euphemism for the unacceptable terms. Women, especially, never sullied their lips with profanity, but were expected at all times to speak in soft and gentle tones. Even the act of cursing was not directly spoken of, but referred to as "airing the lungs."
Here are just a few of the many exclamations and euphemisms you might have heard in the Old West.
All-fired, hell-fired, or joe-fired: completely or totally. Don't be in such an all-fired hurry. He's joe-fired determined to go through with it.
All my eye: nonsense, untrue. All my eye, you ain't no gentleman!
Balderdash: nonsense, empty babble. You say you won the rodeo? Balderdash!
Balls: to make a mistake. If he don't watch out, he's going to balls that up good!
Beat the Dutch, beat the Devil: above what is expected; an exclamation of surprise. He's playing that horn to beat the Dutch. Don't that just beat the Devil?
Blame or blamed: damn or damned. Dad blame it! I'm going to ride that blamed hoss if it kills me.
Bosh, bunkum: nonsense. That's a load of bunkum!
Blazes: hell. Go to blazes!
Bully, bully for you: congratulations, good job, excellent; can be sarcastic as well. You rode that ornery hoss? Well, bully for you!
By jiminy: an exclamation. I'll clean his plow, by jiminy!
Cap the climax: exceeds expectations. That'll cap the climax all right.
Claptrap: nonsense. Don't feed me a bunch of claptrap!
Corral dust: lies and tall tales. He's full of corral dust.
Crimany, crimminy: an expression of surprise. Crimany, it's cold out here!
Dad or dog: God. I'll be a dog-blamed fool!
Dang, darn, dash, ding or drat: damn; also variations such as gosh-ding, gol-durn-it, dagnabbit, ding-blamed, dang-blatted or whatever other syllables a creative curser could invent.
Deuce, dickens: the Devil. The deuce you say! That hurt like the dickens!
Don't care a continental: don't give a damn.
Do tell: an exclamation of surprise. Do tell! I had no idea the man was married.
Fudge: an expression of contempt, usually of what was just said.
Go boil your shirt: get lost, take a hike.
Gosh or G: God; usually combined with some euphemism for damn. Gosh-dang-it, I told you to tie that filly up before you saddled her!
Gummy: an exclamation. Gummy, I had no idea you'd take offense!
Hobble your lip: shut up.
Humbug: nonsense. Bah, humbug!
I dad: an exclamation of surprise. I dad, where'd that extra ace come from?
I swan, I swamp it, I swow: corruptions of "I swear;" an exclamation of surprise. I swan if he didn't win that hand!
Land sakes, law sakes, or sakes alive: (for the) Lord's sake, a generic exclamation. Land sakes, is that the sheriff? Sakes alive, but I'm powerful thirsty!
Man alive: a generic exclamation. Man alive, that's a big rattler!
Old Scratch: the Devil. Old Scratch have you for that!
Poppy-cock: nonsense. That is pure poppy-cock!
Pshaw, shaw: an exclamation of disbelief or disgust. Pshaw, I missed the son of a biscuit.
Push your barrow: get out of here.
Rip-roaring, rip-snorting, rip-or rib-staver: exceeds all expectations. That was a rip-snorting rodeo! I had a rip-roaring time.
Sam Hill: the Devil. What in the Sam Hill do you think you're doing?
Shut your cock holster: shut your mouth.
Some pumpkins: something impressive. That five-story building sure is some pumpkins!
Son of a biscuit: son of a bitch. That little son of a biscuit cheated at poker!
Stall your mug: make yourself scarce.
Take the rag off: surpass, exceed expectation. Don't that take the rag off?
Tarnation, or 'nation: damnation. What in tarnation is going on over there?
Wipe your chin: shut up.
Oh, and the exclamation in the title? Nobody really knows where it came from. It seems to have first occurred in a song from 1842, and the songwriter may have just made the thing up to fit his rhyme scheme.
A Dictionary of the Old West, Peter Watts, 1987
Everyday Life in the 1800's, Marc McCutcheon, 1993
Heavens to Betsy! and Other Curious Sayings, Charles Funk, 1955
Legends of America website: http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-slang.html