By Natalie Bright
Southerners have a way of cutting consonants and lengthening vowels to speak our mind. Some people may assume we’re ignorant. I think we’re entertaining and somewhat lazy. For instance, we’ve shortened you all to y’all. Rather than converse in a lengthy explanation of our intentions and plans, we simply say, I’m fixin’ to. The listener has to guess at the intended task.
Lunch or Dinner; Which Is It?
Common day phrases have been altered too. My husband and I have had many a discussion regarding breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He insists the correct names are breakfast, dinner and supper, just like his grandparents used to call it.
Same thing goes for the American cowboy. Raising quality beef steak was a real profession, and continues to be so today. Technology has had some influence on the cattleman and ranching industry, but what remains is a simple way of speaking his mind. There are few story tellers equal to a group of cowboys gathered around talking hoss. These types of conversations are gold to a writers ear. I heard a cowboy mention that his horse was smoked, which means the horse had already been ridden hard and needed a rest so the cowboy had to quit work for the day. One simple word can say a lot.
Down in the Skillet
In the olden days, the Texas Panhandle was down in the skillet. On the cattle drive, the chuck wagon cook, or dough-wrangler, might whip up a batch of sour-doughs with sop (biscuits and gravy), along with a boggy top for dessert (a pie with only a bottom crust).
After work, the ranch hand would dig around in his war-bag for a clean shirt, which is a carry-all for his personal possessions. I’ve heard the term still used today. A war bag is similar to a sports bag with a cowboy’s rodeo gear for riding broncs or bulls. Back to the olden days, if he could find clean duds, he’d slick-up for the shin-dig at a neighboring ranch where they’d shake a good hoof until day break.
Cowboy Slang Reference
These witty and colorful catch phrases are interesting to me and I love sprinkling a few throughout my stories. I’ve discovered several helpful reference books, in case you’d like to learn more about the lingo of the great American west. These are a few of my favorites:
COWBOY LINGO by Ramon F. Adams, is a collection of slack-jaw words and whangdoodle ways (Houghton Mifflin Company).
WESTERN WORDS, also by Adams, A dictionary of the Old West (Hippocrene Books, New York).
COWBOY SLANG by Edgar R. Frosty Potter
Happy trails and keep writing!