Old West Slang

At The Word Wood flash fiction blog, October is the month where we try to write a 500 word story in the Western genre. Despite all the subgenre options, this started out as quite the challenge. I can't remember ever reading a single Western novel, and I'm pretty sure Little House on the Prarie doesn't count.

Since I don't specifically consider myself a Western fan, I thought it was going to be hard to write and I was intimidated. But then I sat down and thought about movies and TV shows I liked that were considered western. Of course, I love Firefly, plus The Young Riders, Young Guns, Legends of the Fall, Maverick; all which Western purists might consider lacking. I did love The Outlaw Josey Wales! And purists can't argue against that one. However, I hated Oscar-winning Unforgiven. Go fig.
John Wayne, Vampire
And prolly this will piss someone off, but I think John Wayne did a few too many Westerns (83!). Talk about hoarding gunslinger roles. I woulda liked to see a couple vampire or ghost movies on his resume.

John Wayne: Now, see here, little lady, I reckon I'll drink yer blood.

[And wouldn't it have been interesting to see Cary Grant score one of John Wayne's cowboy roles?! I would have wanted to see Cary Grant in a vampire movie too.]

Alright, my point is that when I sat down and thought about it, I realized I do like quite a few Westerns and had some experience with them. And then I found this treasure trove of Old West/Cowboy slang and it really helped me set a foundation for a story.

This shit is awesome! So colorful and fun. Amazingly, I was reading through the list and realized that a good chunk of the expressions I was already familiar with and I still hear today. After that, writing in the Western genre was kinda easy. The hard part was writing a 500 word piece of flash fiction. I'm still not really telling a proper story arc, I find the super short length too limiting for my style of storytelling. I like the characters I write about too much to give them such limited stage time. But hopefully you'll find it enjoyable anyway.

Be on the lookout for my flash fiction on Sunday, Oct 7. And let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out some of my favorite old west slang.


Absquatulate - To leave or disappear.

Acknowledge the Corn - To admit the truth, to confess a lie, or acknowledge an obvious personal shortcoming.

Arbuckle's - Slang for coffee, taken from a popular brand of the time. "I need a cup of Arbuckle's."

Bad Box - To be in a bad box, is to be in a bad predicament.

Bar Dog - Bar tender

Batting His Eyes - A gambler’s term for men who look on but don’t play.

Beef Tea - Shallow water where cows have stood.

Bone Orchard - Cemetery.

Buckle Bunnies - Female groupies who follow and befriend rodeo riders.

Cattle Kate - A female cattle rustler.

Chew Gravel - Thrown from a horse.

Chirk - To make a peculiar noise by placing the tongue against the roof of the mouth, to urge horses on. Also refers to people as cheerful, good spirits, comfortable.

Choke Strap - A necktie.

Cottonwood Blossom - A man lynched from the limb of a tree.

Daisy - Good; excellent.

Desert Canary - A burro.

Honey-fuggled - To cheat, to pull the wool over one's eyes.

Justins - Cowboy boots.

Keep That Dry - Keep it secret.

Lead Poisoning - Shot. "He died of lead poisoning."

Man At The Pot - According to camp etiquette, when a cowboy gets up to refill his cup from the coffee pot hanging over the campfire, if someone shouts, "Man at the pot!" the man at the coffee pot is required to fill everyone's cup.

Marble Orchard – Graveyard

Painting One's Tonsils - Drinking alcohol, also referred to as 'Painting one's nose."

Pocket advantage - Carrying a derringer in a coat pocket that is charged and at half cock. Sometimes a shot is fired through the pocket itself.

Pop Your Corn - Say what you have to say, speak out.

Prairie Tenor - Coyote.

Sewn Up - Exhausted, finished, done. Also means intoxicated.

Skittles! - Nonsense!

Sky A Copper - Toss up a penny.

Slang-Whanger - A writer or noisy talker.

Spark - A lover, a beau.

Sparking - Courting.

Table Muscle - A pot belly.

Three-by-nine smile - A laugh or smile to the full extent on the jaws.

Wearing the Bustle Wrong - Referring to a pregnant woman.

Whomper-jawed - Uneven.

Widow Maker - A very bad or "outlaw" horse.

Zooning - Humming, buzzing, barking.
(See! Totally fun and inspirational. Makes me want to write a historical western novella/novel someday.)

[First published at DeniseGanley.com]

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