Friday, May 8, 2015

Just For Fun, Part 2

Just For Fun

Americans are great lovers of the euphemism. Especially in the Old West, the average man would rather say someone was “beef plum to the hock” instead of just saying “he’s big and fat.” Here are a few of those old phrases and sayings – just for fun.

Part 2: N-Z

Nester - a derogatory term for a homesteader, farmer or small rancher - also churn-twister, colonist, hay shaker, hoe-man, home sucker, pumpkin piler, plow chaser, soddy, sodbuster or sandlapper
Nice kitty - a skunk
Off his feed - feeling poorly or feeling bad
Old - used as a term of rank or camaraderie with no real reference to age, as in "old man" (the boss of a cow outfit)
One-horse outfit; rawhide outfit; shirttail ranch; two-by-four outfit; greasy sack outfit; cockebur outfit; starve-out ranch - a small ranch, probably with too little grass, too few hands, too little land, and too little money; one-horse outfit can also mean anything small or inconsequential
Outfit - a ranch, ranch crew, or any crew or organization rigged to do any job; also, someone's personal gear, or almost anything
Outrider - a range rider; a cowboy who rides his employer's range far and yon to spot trouble (like a line rider, only the line rider stops at the ranch's boundaries while the outrider goes everywhere on the property); outridings are inspection trips
Over the willows - a river in flood (willow borders most streams in the Western plains and mountains
Pack - to ride into remote country carrying supplies on horseback; to carry loads on pack animals; to carry anything regularly (as in a sheriff packing a star or a cowman packing irons or brands)
Pack the mail - to ride fast
Pail - to milk a cow; sometimes to water a cow from a bucket
Palaver - a parley or long talk, such as between Whites and Indians
Pants rats; seam squirrels - body lice
Pard - partner; often the fellow a cowboy was paired with on daily jobs, but used in other Western contexts as well
Paul Pry - a meddler
Paw around for turmoil - to look for trouble
Pecos swap - theft
Pecos Bill - a teller of windies, a peddler of loads, a fellow who likes to stiff dudes
Penny ante - literally, a poker game in which the ante is limited to a penny; figuratively, anything small and inconsequential
Picked brand - the legal use would be to remove hair around a blotched or unclear brand; the illegal use is to pluck the hair of a calf in the shape of a brand so that from a distance, the calf looks branded but later a rustler can rebrand the animal with his own brand
Pistol - a green hand, inexperienced cowboy or pocket flask of booze (revolvers were called six-shooters, shooting irons, etc. but not pistols)
Play a lone hand - to act alone
Play both ends against the middle - from the game of Faro, where you can fix the game by trimming the cards at either end of the deck
Plumb - as a modifier, it means completely or absolutely (as in "he hit the target plumb center"); as a verb, "to plumb a track" means to follow a faint trail
Plunder - what a man kept in his possibles sack or war bag; his belongings
Porch percher - a loafer
Possum - a crafty, dissembling or cowardly person; to possum or play possum is to dissemble or pretend, as in feigning sickness
Pumpkin roller - a complainer in a cow camp or an inexperienced hand
Puncture lady - a gossip; what was punctured was someone's reputation
Put him to bed with a pick and shovel - to bury someone
Quirly - a hand-rolled cigarette
Quit the flats - to leave the area
Rafter - to lie under your blankets with your knees sticking up
Rag out - to dress up fancily
Ramrod - the working boss of a ranch
Ranahan, ranny - a top hand; a good cowboy
Rawhide job - a tough job
Red-eyed, red-rumped - angry
Rib up - to persuade
Ride for a blind bridle - to work for a farmer, whose horses wore blinders
Ride into someone's dust - to follow someone
Ride like a deputy sheriff - to ride recklessly
Ride over that trail again - explain that better
Ride the river with - cattle drives often had to cross flooding rivers in the Spring, so this expression came to mean a man who will stick no matter how tough it gets
Ride under a cottonwood limb - to get hanged
Rildy - a blanket or quilt
Ringy - riled up, as a horse wrings it's tail when nervous; a ringy woman is high-strung
Road agent, roadster - a highwayman, a stagecoach holdup man
Roll in - depending on the context, either to arrive or to go to bed
Roll the cotton - for a cowboy to roll up his bedroll
Roll your wheels - get going
Rotten-logging - cowboy slang for a couple sitting on a log and kissing
Run like a Nueces steer - to run fast and recklessly
Running mate - a cowboy's partner or spouse
Salty dog - anyone really good at his work; also a tough fellow full of spirit or fight
Sand - what a man has in his craw when he's brave; courage, grit
Sand augur - a little sand whirlwind; a dust devil
Savvy - understanding; noun, verb and adjective usage; possibly from Spanish sabe or possibly from Indian pidgin English from the maritimes
Sawbones - a doctor, especially a surgeon; other names for physicians include Epsom Salts, Genuine Jimmy, old pills, pill roller and Quinine Jimmy
Scallyhoot - to make tracks, run off, skedaddle
Scissorbill - a cowboy term of contempt for a shirker or incompetent
Scrape - a difficulty, predicament or fight
See a man about a horse - to urinate; an old excuse to leave company and seek the outhouse
See the elephant - what you got to do at the climax of your journey - see whatever there was to be seen and do whatever there was to do; often this term had to do with seeing more than enough and heading home in disappointment
Severe - wild, headstrong, as in a horse or a man who "never killed a man who did not deserve killing"
Shading - resting, as a cowboy does when he finds a shady spot on the range
Shadow rider - a man so vain he rides around admiring his own shadow
Shag out - a Texas expression meaning to run out on someone, to back out
Shanghai - to spirit someone away using force, drugs or other means, especially to recruit sailors for long voyages; believed to originate in San Francisco in the 1850's
Shenanigan - a trick, a bit of nonsense or tomfoolery; possibly from 1850's California or from an Irish word meaning "I play tricks"
Shepherd's Bible - what a cowboy called a mail-order catalog
Shindig, stomp - a dance or party
Shine - to do well or stand out; shining times are standout times, to be savored and remembered
Shop-mades - custom-made boots; cowboys scorned ready-made boots
Short - past due to head somewhere else
Short of hat size - what a cowboy called a shepherd, who was a little crazy
Shorten his stake rope - to get someone under control, to cramp their style
Silver exchange - a gambling hall
Six-shooter coffee - proper cowboy coffee, strong enough to float a six-shooter
Size up - to take the measure of a man or situation
Smart Aleck - a know-it-all
Smart as a whip - very smart; first used in Salt Lake City in 1860
Snaky - a devious, treacherous, shady man
Snorty - a contrary or belligerent cow, an irascible man or a high-spirited horse
Soak - to rest, to loaf
Sod-pawing mood - anger
Sold his saddle - a cowboy who's hit bottom, who's lost his status
Spoon - to turn over in your sleep
Spraddled out - dressed in your Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes
Spread - a ranch - land, buildings, hands and critters all together
Spread the mustard - to put on airs
Stackwad - a lazy cowboy who looks for the easy jobs
Storm the puncheons - to dance; puncheon flooring is made of logs cut in half and sunk rounded side down into the ground
Stove up - beaten up, worn out, banged up, damaged
Straight goods - the truth
Stub horn; wrinkle horn - an old cow with wrinkled horns or an old cowman
Stuffed shirt - pompous, over formal manners; also stuffed-shirtism
Stuffing dudes; stringing a whizzer; stretching the blanket; loading - telling dudes tall tales (yarns, windies, stringers, corral dust)
Sull - to act sullen
Sure as shooting - damn sure
Water shy - a person who doesn't bathe enough
Water at night - to be on the dodge; to water your horse after dark when nobody can see you
Wear the bustle wrong - pregnant
Well-heeled - well-off, either for money or firearms
What I know about that you could put in one eye - I don't know a damn thing about it
What in the Sam Hill - named after the eccentric son of railroad tycoon James J. Hill
When cows climb trees - never
While the gate's open - while the opportunity is here
Whittle whanging - quarreling
Win your spurs - to earn your place or standing, as a cowboy or in any endeavor
Wish book - a mail-order catalog
Wooden overcoat - a coffin
Yarn - to tell a tale, probably an adventure and probably a tall tale; the tale itself is a yarn
A Dictionary of the Old West, Peter Watts, 1977
Dictionary of the American West, Win Blevins, 1993
J.E.S Hays


  1. Good stuff there. Thanks.

  2. I really love this stuff. Thanks for sharing.

  3. A fine collection of cowboy talk. Thanks for posting.

  4. Glad to see you're enjoying it!

  5. Glad to have this at hand, gracias amigo.

  6. Good stuff. I intend to work many of these into daily conversation. :D