Explorations of Western Expressions

Jan 11, 2024 by Tempe Javitz

I couldn’t resist another blog on western expressions.  
As an English major I’m fascinated by words and their 
meanings.  I’m indebted to perusals of the internet, 
but I wish to say that Win Blevins (author) and his 
grand “Dictionary of the American West” gives me endless
pleasure.  His publisher, Sasquatch Books of Seattle, 
Washington, created a real winner.

Hole Up:  Bandits after you?  Take refuge or ‘hole up’ 
in a hiding place.  A blizzard is blowing?  Hole up at
home or in the barn.

Hole-in-the Wall:  The well known hide out for Butch 
Cassidy’s Wild Bunch in Wyoming’s Powder River country.   
You must have watched “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid.”

Holiday:  Hope that’s what you had recently. 
However, loggers call an unwooded area in the timber a 
‘holiday.’ You know, a clear space in the woods.

Hombre:  Another name for a man in the Southwest, but 
we always meant a rough or tough fellow.

Homestead Act of 1862.  This act provided citizens the
right to claim up to 160 acres in exchange for living 
on the land and making improvements.  This was land given
to settlers rather than sold to them.  Free land brought
emigrants from many foreign countries to settle the West.

Honky-Tonk:  A dance hall or saloon.  Towns at the end 
of the cattle trail were called honky-tonk towns.

Hooch:  Booze, especially illicit or home-made liquor.
Hoof It:  Having to walk instead of riding your pony.  
That’s what happens when your unbroken colt throws you 
off and heads for home.  You now have to hoof it back 
to the corral, rain or shine.

Hoolihan:  A quiet rope throw in a crowded horse corral,
a quick whirl, a flat noose, then a head catch without 
disturbing the horses.  My father Torrey Johnson was a
wizard at throwing this loop.

Hoop Dance:  Nowadays this is a showy dance at Powwows 
where the Native American dancer uses more than a dozen
hoops at once and makes them into shapes while dancing.  
Powwows are social, and sometimes religious events for 
contemporary indigenous tribes, where they come together 
to feast, dance, trade and socialize.

Hoosegow.  You are in the jail house now.  Adapted from
the Spanish word juzgado or courthouse.  Jimmie Rogers 
had a popular song “I’m in the jailhouse now,” in 1928.

Hornswoggle:  When a cow wriggles to get rid of a rope 
(who knew?!).  Today it means to deceive, as in “You’ve
been hornswoggled.”

Hot Shot:  An electrical charge that makes a horse buck--
a rodeo term.

Hundred and Sixty:  A quarter section of land which was the 
usual amount claimable under the Homestead Act of 1862.  We 
had a pasture on the ranch I grew up on that was called
“the hundred and sixty pasture.”

Hung Up:  This describes a rider who has fallen out of 
their saddle and has a boot caught in a stirrup.  Boy, 
are you in trouble then.  Been there done that!

Hunt Dirt:  When you fall off your horse.  Also known as
“hunt grass,” or “bite the dust.”

In A Bind:  To be stuck in a hard place.  It originates
from loggers who had their saw bound by the weight of a log.

Riding Circle:  Cowboys riding a wide loop to gather cattle
on the roundup.  A short circle was the Inner Circle usually
assigned to an inexperienced rider or a cowboy with a barely
broke or untamed horse.

Irish Baby Buggy:  What miners and loggers called a 
wheelbarrow.  (Today a prejudicial remark.)

Iron:  A branding iron, but also slang for a revolver or
a horseshoe.

Iron Horse:  The railroad of course.

Ivories:  Cowboy slang for poker chips.

Jack Rabbit:  A hare or rabbit with long ears and long legs.

Jackalope:  In Wyoming and Utah the mythic jackrabbit with
antelope’s horns.  My favorite souvenir.

Jaw Cracker.  Used even into the 1930s when referring to 
the traveling dentist.  Yikes!

Jerky:  Meat preserved by drying.  Many varieties available
today:  Beef, turkey, deer, elk, buffalo, and I even found
ALLIGATOR jerky online.

Happy New Year to all of you who read my blog! I hope you
have read my book by now.  If not, here's the link to the
South Dakota Historical Society Press.  They would love
to hear from you.