I’ve Got a Case of the Colt’s Tooth

Fellow blogger and frequent commenter on this site (thanks, Ron!), Ron Scheer, who keeps the Western-focused Buddies in the Saddle blog, had a great post yesterday called Old West Glossary No. 3. It’s the third installment of a series he’s had going this past year that lists old phrases and terms he’s dug up over the years as a reader and film-lover that were used back in the day. I absolutely love this kind of thing. Here are a couple tastes:

blue blotter = one who drinks heavily. “But when a man’s making a blue blotter of himself, things don’t look the same to him.” William MacLeod Raine, Brand Blotters.

crawfish = to back down, run away. “He’s took his stand, and done what he allowed was right. After that, he ain’t built to crawfish.” Emerson Hough, Heart’s Desire.

I can’t get enough of stuff like this. For more cowboy-related vernacular, check out Ron’s first and second installments on the theme as well.

Continuing the theme, a similar post hit my Google feed today courtesy of another favorite site, The Art of Manliness, called Three Sheets to the Wind: Nautical Slang in Common Usage. Here are a couple tidbits from that article:


As the crow flies” – In a straight line, the shortest route between two points

It was common for 18th and 19th century ships to carry crows on board for use as a last resort when other attempts at navigation failed. When released, a crow will instinctively head to shore if it is near. Navigators would often time the crow’s flight as a means of measuring the distance from ship to shore.

Three sheets to the wind” – In a state of drunkenness or intoxication

While one might assume that the word “sheet” represents the sail of the ship, it actually refers to the line used to control the sail. When several sheets were loose, a ship’s sail would flail wildly about, often causing the ship to appear to be staggering uncontrollably, as if in a drunken state. The expression was used to refer to drunkenness even during the age of sail and was often part of a sliding scale. When a sailor was just a wee bit tipsy, he was one sheet to the wind. Two sheets to the wind described a sailor who was well-oiled, while three sheets to the wind represented a sailor who was a stumbling, slurring mess.


Finally, the official Art of Manliness book has a chapter in it with selections from this article, Manly Slang from the 19th Century. I borrowed heavily from it for the pulp boxing story I wrote, which is coming out yet this year. Check some of this stuff out:


Bunch Of Fives. The fist. Pugilistic.

Follow-me-lads. Curls hanging over a lady’s shoulder.


There are several more great ones in the book as well. I get a real kick out of this kind of thing.

6 thoughts on “I’ve Got a Case of the Colt’s Tooth

  1. Ron Scheer

    >Thanks for the link, Chris. Come across the word "buzzcock" anywhere? I couldn't find it.Fistfights tend to be more common than gunplay in the early westerns I'm reading. They're sometimes explained as more "manly" and less "cowardly."

  2. Chris

    >Evan: That last image is from an illustrated edition of The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and the art was provided by N.C. Wyeth. I have a bunch of Wyeth images I've picked up over the years; same with that Masked Rider pic by George Rozen.Ron: The only "buzzcock" I know of is the English punk rock band called The Buzzcocks. Heh. Probably not what you had in mind.http://www.allmusic.com/artist/buzzcocks-p3809

  3. April

    >Nice! When we were in the restaurant biz, we'd put this kind of thing up on the chalkboard with the specials. Tie-in to the cowboy/western theme.


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