Frontier slang for moderns: Part one

Once the English language came to America, it didn't take long for people to notice that it went a little haywire. As an immigrant nation, we absorbed a lot of words from Americans who did not speak English as their first language. The frontier included a lot of German, French, Spanish, and Native American words, depending on where you were located, often spoken in a unique vernacular.

Additionally, Americans developed a lot of their own words, some of them specific to the jobs found in the American West, some neologisms that seemed to have been invented just for fun.

I have accumulated a few frontier dictionaries over time, as well as just marking down interesting words where I hear them, and will start sharing them here, along with examples of their uses, all dating back to the middle or end of the 18th century.

I have selected words that can be used immediately, in place of less interesting words that are in our current vocabulary. Drop them in and see how much more interesting your world gets.

Absquatulate: To leave, make off with, especially abruptly.

Example: "Indeed, to these a settlement is so odious, that they either pay for land and turn into settlers, or, they become indignant at the legal invasion of their domain, and hastily — absquatulate; that is — they go and squat in another place" — "The New Purchase: Or, Early Years in the Far West" by Robert Carlton.

Airin' the Lungs: Cussing.

Example: "He be fond o' tricks, and he likes 'hollering,' and airing his lungs." — "Lights and Shadows of Clerical Life" by William Cheetham.

A Lick and a Promise: A haphazard job.

Example: "Yes, his face is freckled and tanned with the sun, and his hair has been given a lick and a promise today—probably for several days; possibly the promise without the lick."— "Ten Years a Cowboy" by Charles Cyrel Post.

Alloverish: Uncomfortable.

Example: "'Oh, lor, Jonathan, do hush; Jonathan, did you read that story about a man being hugged to death by a bear?' — 'Guess I did, Sookey, and it made me feel alloverish.'" — "The electric telegraph of fun" by Alfred Henry Forrester.

Arkansas toothpick: A long knife.  

Example: "The Bowie-knife was sometimes called an 'Arkansas toothpick,' and Arkansas is occasionally sneeringly referred to as the 'Toothpick State.'" — "Early Days in Arkansas" by William F. Pope.

Catawamptiously chawed up: Defeated.

Example: "'He was catawamptiously chawed up,' was said of a political character, who had been fiercely attacked by a host of adversaries in the Legislature of Missouri." — "Americanisms: The English of the New World" by Maximilian Schele de Vere.

Fice dog: A mongrel.

Example: "Sam Scott's fice dog ran at and barked at them, when one of the party shot at the dog." — "Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Court of Appeals of Texas" 

Gallinipper: A large mosquito. 

Example: "The largest kind of mosquito in the valley of the lower Mississippi is called the 'Gallinipper.' It is peculiarly described, by the boatmen, to be as large as a goose, and that it flies about at night with a brickbat under its wings with which it sharpens its 'sting.'"

Huckleberry above my persimmon: A cut above.

Example: "Whence do we get the phrase, 'A huckleberry above my persimmon'? Washingtonian. This is a Southern expression, and means something beyond one's ability. " — "American Notes and Queries," William Shepard Walsh, et al.

Savagerous: Savage.

Example: "I never knowd 'em so savagerous an' fighty. The war hez gin 'em a fresh start, an' thur dander's p agin us, by reezun thet the gin'ral didn't take thur offer to help us agin the yellur-bellies." — "The War-trail; Or, The Hunt of the Wild Horse" by Mayne Reid.

Slantindicular: Slanted.

Example: "It was said of him that 'he was a just man and a righteous man, and that he walked uprightly before the world, but when he was not before the world his walk was slantindicular.'" — "Speeches on Questions of Public Policy" by John Bright, et al.

Slick up: Dress up.

Example: "Yes, I'll jist step into the chamber and slick up my hair with a taller candle, and put my bettermost coat into a silk pocket-handkerchief." — "The clockmaker; or The sayings and doings of Samuel Slick" by Thomas Chandler Haliburton.

Some pumpkins: Anything impressive.

Example: "The men were both strongly attached to the representative, and the contest consisted in their efforts to excel each other in complimenting their friend; and the climax of the argument seemed to be that Mr. Clingman was not 'some pumpkins.'" — "Adventures in the Wilds of North America" by Charles Lanman. et al.


Popular Posts