Forgotten cowboy slang we should all use again
Before living in San Francisco, I lived in Colorado. This is a land which, underneath its crunchy Granola exterior, is actually still very much the same Far West (albeit not as far as you, California) that everyone thinks it is. Once a year, cows and horses trample pigeons and passerbys on the streets of Denver, there is actually a cowboy gay bar (and it’s fun), people actually (and often) wear cowboy boots to go dancing, and once you venture away from the college/hippy/ski towns and into the wilderness, everyone (yes, even the ladies, babies, and lady babies) suddenly has a giant mustache and a hat like that kindly dude from The Big Lebowski.
Admittedly, California is even worse (or better). Although San Francisco has evolved into something completely different (as we’ve seen, to some it more or less equates to an intersection, a streetcar, a neighborhood and a bridge), its old West roots are the foundation the city was built on.
In reality, living in the Old West probably sucked a considerable amount of donkey drool. No one really looked as magnificent as James Dean, guys with stubble couldn’t actually light matches off their face, and Dr. Quinn medicine woman didn’t exist so everyone was constantly dying of typhoid. Being a woman was getting better, but was still pretty dismal; in fact, being anything but a straight white man, as usual, wasn’t ideal (see: terrible). However, discarding most of the ragingly-sexist and racist lingo that was out there, what survives of “cowboy talk” depicts a rough, dust-covered, sun-striken adventure that, thanks to Hollywood and Spaghetti Westerns, reaches back to a time when the mere sight of someone chasing someone was enough entertainment for hours.
While acknowledging that a lot of things happened in the Old West that should never happen again, the time is still a pretty defining part of the United State’s history. Let’s take a moment to celebrate the expressions that would turn any boring-ass answering message, business meeting, or Bar Mitzva speech into pure gold.
To get a truly objective opinion we asked our own Michaela, a Slovakian illustrator/architect/overall magical dream-weaving unicorn lady to pick some of her favorites. Behold the result:
MAN FOR BREAKFAST: A murdered body in the streets at dawn. Commonplace in the early days of Los Angeles and Denver. Also used to describe certain saloons when men were killed the night before.
Example of a modern-day use: “Hey guys! I looked out the window – no men for breakfast today, so let’s celebrate by going and having overpriced eggs for brunch. No, Sally, we couldn’t just cook it ourselves at home. IT’S A CELEBRATION. Duh.”
CALIFORNIA PRAYER BOOK: A deck of cards.
Ex. of a modern-day use: “God damn it Hubert, I don’t wanna play Parcheesi anymore! Whip out your California prayer book, and let’s play strip poker and get nekkid!”
ACKNOWLEDGE THE CORN: To admit the truth, to confess a lie, or acknowledge an obvious personal shortcoming.
Ex of a modern-day use: “Really, Jimmy, you just need to acknowledge the corn once and for all: you still don’t understand what the words ‘gluten intolerant’ really mean. Stop using them.”
LIKE A THOROUGHBRED: Like a gentleman.
Ex of a modern-day use: “I have to say, I was really impressed when we went to the wine country together; I thought he would disgrace us as all at the tasting, but he drinks like a real thoroughbred. He even spits it out at the end.”
PILL: A doctor.
Ex of a modern-day use: “I’ve been telling you since you came back from Burning Man to go see a pill: you’ve been coughing up blood, dust and glitter for a week now.”
EDIT: I know glitter isn’t allowed on the playa but “blood, dust and bacon” didn’t quite have the same ring to it.
ACOCK: Knocked over, defeated, astounded, suddenly surprised.
Ex of a modern-day use: “Dude, I had the worst weekend ever; I ran into my mom at the Dorey Alley Fair and I was acock as hell. So was she, but I couldn’t tell whether it was me, or the flogging.”
PAINTING ONE’S TONSILS: Drinking alcohol, also referred to as ‘Painting one’s nose.”
Ex of a modern-day use: “How about we go out to the Summer Place and get our tonsils a fresh coat of paint?! What’s that? You had an adenoidectomy? No tonsils? Ah…whoops.”
A LICK AND A PROMISE: To do a haphazard job.
Ex of a modern-day use: “Yeah….when I say he only gave it a lick and a promise last night, I mean it literally.”
WORSE THAN A CAT IN A ROOMFUL OF ROCKERS: Someone who is really nervous.
Ex of a modern-day use: “I’m aware that my hardwood floor now looks like the aftermath of Pompeii with hairballs on it. Whenever I vacuum, my dog gets worse than a cat in a roomful of rockers, so I just gave up. He suffers from anxiety, you know.”
TO SPOON: To court, to make love.
Ex of a modern-day use: “It was the best night ever! First, he spooned me relentlessly at the party, then we spooned, which of course led to him spooning me senseless, after which we spooned (while listening to Spoon). Best Tinder date ever.”
ALL BEER AND SKITTLES: Unpleasant, not so happy.
Ex of a modern-day use: “Look at you, all beer and skittles. What, did your new startup fail?”
TO FUNKIFY: To frighten, to alarm.
Ex of a modern-day use: “Don’t you ever funkify me like that again! I swear I will dropkick you right in the face.”
CATAWOMPUS: Fiercely, eagerly, awry, cockeyed, crooked, skewed.
Ex of a modern-day use: “Yeah, I don’t know how to feel about last night. She took one look at me without my clothes on, told me I was all catawompus down there, made me wear kitty ears and told me to go for it.”
TABLE MUSCLE: Potbelly.
Ex of a modern-day use: “You go ahead and go on your month-long yoga/parcour/speedwalking retreat. I’ll be sitting on that stool right there, working my table muscle.”
FAMILY DISTURBANCE: Whiskey.
Ex of a modern-day use: “Hey – anyone want some family disturbance over here? No Gertrude, I will not keep my voice down, you know how I don’t like pre-school recitals.”
FULL AS A TICK: Very drunk.
Ex of a modern-day use: “It was so romantic. We were both full as ticks…like, ready to be removed with tweezers….and we figured, eh, why the hell not?”
THERE YOU AIN’T: Expresses a failure. The opposite of “There you are.”
Ex of a modern-day use: “Yup, right there…no, not there, there. No…NO…to the left….no, your other left…..DAMNIT SALLY….Ahhhnnnddd…..nope. There you ain’t.”
SLANG-WHANGER: A writer or noisy talker.
Ex of a modern-day use: “What I do for a living? Well, for the moment I work in a bar, but my dream is to become the biggest and best slang-whanger of all time.”
G.T.T.: Gone To Texas. A common expression in use following the Civil War. People would find the letters G.T.T. carved into their doors, left by a kin. Many outlaws went to Texas.
Ex of a modern-day use: “I’m really concerned, Eustace sent me a text saying ‘GTT’ and I think he may have accepted that job as a petroleum engineer in Houston…you know, I thought we would save the planet together! Hm? Oh, he went to South by SouthWest? Ah, that’s ok then.”
AIRIN’ THE PAUNCH: Vomit, throw-up, regurgitate.
Ex of a modern-day use: “And in conclusion, it’s been my honor to unite two of my best friends in holy matrimony; also, I deeply apologize for having aired the paunch all over their wedding cake. To be fair, it didn’t have enough decoration on it anyway.”
SONOFABITCH STEW: A cowboy concoction that contained cow heart, testicles, tongue, liver, and marrow gut. Probably first served on a trail drive using the ingredients at hand.
EDIT: Yes, I obviously chose it as a tribute to our very own, hopefully mayor-to-be.
Ex of a modern-day use AND/OR genius commercial pitch (I expect royalties): “Mmmm-mmm Mom! Sonofabitch Stew, my favorite part of a balanced breakfast!”
All credit for cowboy lingo/slang and definitions thanks to Kathy Weiser-Alexander and contributors at Legends Of America.