Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Back in the day, a man usually tried to avoid a fight. Remember that easy access to firearms we discussed in a previous column. However, humans being human, arguments occurred. Here are some of the terms you’d have heard in such a situation.

Argufy - to argue, have weight as an argument; one of those pseudo-Latinate terms that sounded more educated than the original “argue”

Bad Box – a bad predicament, as in being caught inside a box with no way out

Blow: to taunt or ridicule; the image is of one person blowing hot words onto the other

Bobbery: a squabble, argument; possibly Anglo-Indian, from the Hindu “bap re” (a very disrespectful address, “Oh thou father!”)

Brush: a skirmish or fight; brush as in to brush past or touch up against

Bulldoze: to bully, threaten or coerce, thus a bulldozer is a large person who bulldozes; from the tendency of a bull to shove its enemies around with its horns

Bushwhack: a cowardly attack or ambush; the image is of hiding in the bushes to strike (“whack”) a person

Crawl his hump: to start a fight; the image is of a person crawling up a bull’s hump to irritate the animal

Cross-grained: troublesome, perverse; wood that is cross-grained is notoriously hard to work with

Cross-patch: ill tempered person; from “cross” meaning ill-tempered and “patch” meaning a fool

Crotchecal, crotchety: Cross, perverse, peevish; the etymology is unclear (“crotchet” meant a whim or fancy in the early 1800s)

Curly wolf: a rough, dangerous fellow; it is unclear why being curly would make a wolf more dangerous

Curmudgeon: an avaricious, churlish fellow; possibly from the Gaelic “muigean” meaning a disagreeable person, with “cur” meaning a dog

Dander: ire, irritation, temper, emotion; possibly from Spanish “redundar” meaning to overflow

Dry gulch: to ambush; the image is of laying in wait in a ravine and pouncing on someone

By the ears: in a quarrel or fight; as in holding someone by the ears and making them face off with you

Fight like Kilkenny cats: these were the famous mythical cats which fought until they were all torn into tiny scraps of fur

Fling: a sneer or contemptuous remark; the image is of flinging or tossing such remarks

Flunk out: to retire through fear, to back out; possibly from British slang “to funk” with the same meaning and based on the noun “funk” meaning distress

Frump: to mock or insult, can also mean a bad temper; possibly an imitation of a contemptuous snort

Get your back up: get angry; when an animal is ready to fight, it bows up its back to look larger

Hammer and tongs: went at it in a noisy, furious manner, as in a blacksmith using his tools on the anvil

High binder: dangerous and vicious man or horse; origins unclear

Kick up a row: a row is a disturbance

Knock galley west: to beat senseless; probably a sailing term meaning that something has been tossed quite a distance
Lacing, lashing: a beating, as in striking with a lash

Lambaste, lambasting: beat, a beating; from Scandinavian “lemja” meaning to beat and “baste” meaning to thrash

Lather: to beat, as beating a horse until sweat forms a lather

Let drive: let loose, discharge, as in a blow with a fist or a bullet from a gun

Lick: a blow, usually from the fist, thus a licking is a beating

Loo'd, looed: beaten or defeated; possibly from the name of a card game


  1. What a great collection of fightin' words, J.E.S. Thanks for sharing them with us!

  2. I love this, JES! And I know Tex (Kathleen) is getting a big kick out of these, too. Very interesting stuff--I'm going to have to find a way to work some of these in to my stories!

    Thanks so much for being our guest blogger today!

  3. A fantastic reference guide. And, I ain't bein' cross-grained, flingin' or frumpen' ... Thanks JES.

  4. Thanks for this collection, JES. Another one to be filed away for future reference.


  5. Good list, Jes! Fling 'em about indeed. Will keep these in mind. A new one to me is curly wolf. Hadn't heard that one before.

  6. We've been duly bulldozed, hammer and tongs. What a handy list. Thanks!

  7. We've been duly bulldozed, hammer and tongs. What a handy list. Thanks!

  8. Love this stuff! As some of you might know, I am the creator of SLANGMASTER, an interactive database of slang. Remember, if using these terms, you need to put it in the right time frame. Here are the dates these terms were recorded into the written lexicon:
    Argufy -” 1751

    Bad Box – 1848

    Blow: 1848

    Bobbery: 1833

    Brush: 1400

    Bulldoze: 1842

    Bushwhack: 1860

    Crawl his hump: - can’t date, but have heard of

    Cross-grained: 1848


    Crotchecal, crotchety: 1848

    Curly wolf: 1919

    Curmudgeon: 1587

    Dander: 1831

    Dry gulch: to push off horse 1880 - to murder 1930s

    By the ears: 1556

    Fight like Kilkenny cats: 1822

    Fling: 1848

    Flunk out: 1840

    Frump: 1848

    Get (arch) your back up: 1880

    Hammer and tongs: 1700

    High binder: 1806, man, 1860 horse

    Kick up a row: 1746

    Knock galley west: 1875

    Lacing, lashing: - 1849

    Lambaste, lambasting: - 1859

    Lather: 1839,

    Let drive: 1893

    Lick: 1800,

    Loo'd, looed: 1883

    Doncha love this stuff?
    Randall Platt

  9. I'm glad this was a helpful article! I'm really enjoying being a part of such a great group.

    Randall, thanks for the dates - I'll have to check out your website.