Here are some terms and sayings you might encounter in Reavis’ Red River Series:
Apt – will probably, might do
Airish – chilly or cool
Bar ditch – the shallow ditches running alongside rural highways
Billdukey/sharpshooter – long narrow shovel for digging trenches and deep holes
Boardark – bois ’darc tree, also called a horse apple
Booger bear – a fearsome, imaginary monster
Bottoms – a channel occupied (or formerly occupied) by a river. This was the richest land in the county, due to periodic floods.
Boy-howdy – An substitute exclamation for such words as wow or sure is.
Branch – a small tributary that is not a large river or bayou
Brickbat – a brick or partial brick
Browning humpback – Browning Auto 5 shotgun. It featured a distinctive high rear end that gave it the name.
Bumfuzzled – confused
Caissons – tires
Cattywompus – askew
Chopping cotton – an operation that involves the manual thinning of the small cotton plants, as well as the removal of any weeds that had sprouted along with the cotton
Churchkey – beer/bottle opener
Clabber – the solids in soured milk
Clobber – a punch
Conniption – sometimes pronounced “conniptia,” a seizure or fit
Contrary – cranky
Corker – a remarkable thing or person
Craw – the crop of a bird or insect
Creep feed – supplemental feed for calves before they are weaned
Cull – select the best of a crop or herd
Dab – to apply a small amount; also, dollop, a small amount of something
Dally – to dawdle, comes from cowboy term to wrap a rope around a saddle horn to slow or stop a cow or calf
Dawdle – to be slow
Diddly – Not much
Dikes – strange acronym for Diagonal Wire Cutter
Directly – in a little while
Dirt dauber – a member of the wasp family that uses mud to build nests
Doodad – some small, non-important item
Doozy – something outstanding or unique
Dote – to be extremely fond of
Double shovel – a plow with two small shovels, one on each side, one slightly higher than the other for working between crop rows
Drawers – your underwear
Druther – rather
Dugout house – a rough shelter or dwelling formed by an excavation in the ground, in the face of a bank, or in the side of a hill
Fair to middling – originally intended to grade cotton, this phrase is used to describe how something is feeling, or how something strikes an individual.
Fit – seizure
Founder – to collapse or sink
Frazzle – wear away on the edges or to fray
Gaggle – a term meaning a flock of geese on the ground. Folks together could also be called a covey, herd, or flock.
Galls – severe pain or irritation
Galoot – clumsy or oafish person
Gee-haw – a trinket
Goozle – throat, windpipe, Adam’s apple
Gusset – triangular insert in apparel to add strength
Hissy – fit
Histe – Lamar county word for hoist
Holler – yell
Holler calf rope – Texas saying similar to “cry or say uncle,” an admission of defeat. I think it comes from branding, when the calf is tied up and can’t get away.
Honky tonk – a bar that provides country music, drinking and dancing
Hooey – nonsense
Hoosegow – jail
Icebox – I still call the refrigerator an ‘icebox.” Some call them a “fridge” or even the longer “Frigidaire,” but icebox refers to those days when food was kept cool in a wooden box lined with tin or zinc, insulated with everything from sawdust or cork, and cooled by a block of ice that kept everything fresh, but not cold.
‘I god – short for “by god”
Jalopy – ragged old car
Juke joint – a small building operated by African American people. providing music, dancing, gambling, and drinking
Laws – cops
Looky – pure country word to telling someone to look. “Looky there.”
Mosey – Here in the south, we use it to mean wander slowly or aimlessly. Interestingly, I’ve read where mosey was used in the early 1820s in place of “hurry.” No one knows when it changed to our present usage, but some sources say the word’s origin traces back to Moses himself, who wandered the desert, possibly aimlessly, for so many years. Moses=Mosey. Either way, it just sounds good to tell someone to “mosey on down here and let’s see what trouble we can get into.”
Nary – nothing
Noggin – a person’s head
Nubbin’ – the worn stump of something
Ornery – bad tempered or combative, sometimes pronounced “annry”
Outlawed – made illegal
Peckish – feeling bad or hungry
Piddlin – to do something minor
Plank bridge – a rough, flat bridge, usually made of oak, used primarily on dirt roads
Plumb – completely, or all the way. “She’s plumb crazy.”
Poleaxed – knocked out
Polecat – skunk
Proud – Nope, not the way someone feels. This word describes the infected flesh around a wound, large or small.
Pulling boles – picking cotton involved plucking out the white fibers from each open boll, but pulling boles meant harvesting the cotton, dry boll and all.
Punky – rotten
Pure-d – pure (damned)
Range cubes – substitute cattle feed. High protein range cubes are designed to be fed to beef cattle on dry winter forages.
Rascal – mischievous person
Reckon – a person’s view or opinion
Rigor – shivering or trembling
Sap – the shoe-sole shaped sap was two thick pieces of leather sewn around a flat piece of lead in the widest section. Imagine being hit with a lead weighted shoe sole and you get the picture.
Sap – We’ve used this once, in reference to a lawman’s tool. But this usage was originally a British term, meaning a fool, simpleton or dope. “You sap, you’re the only one who did his homework last night, and that makes the rest of us look bad.” Sap is short for “sapskull,” or “wooden head,” from the late 1600s. Unfortunately today, our words are much more harsh when we’re annoyed.
Sashay – “sashay” into a store to return a Christmas gift, the crowds are still horrible. Our Old Timey Word of the Week means to glide or move casually. I remember the Old Man telling me, “Don’t you sashay in here with that attitude, boy.” The first recorded use is from the mid-1800s, chassé, was a dancing term referring to a gliding motion, possibly in a square dance.
Sass – to talk back. “Don’t sass me.”
Scat – to away, leave
Shoat – a young hog that has been weaned. Folks tended to sometimes switch between pig, piglet and shoat without much conscious delineation.
Scooch – to inch in some direction
Shinny – to climb
Skedaddle – to leave hurriedly
Slabber – to spread in a very messy way. You can slabber paint on a wall, or you can carefully paint it.
Snapping turtles biting until it thunders – old saying that means a snapping turtle will bite and hold on for a very long time.
Sorehead – bad tempered
Sorry – useless
Spell – a period of time; you could have a bad spell, meaning you were sick, or you worked on something for a spell.
Spinning our wheels – old saying for when you’re stuck
Squall – to cry
Step-ins – “Don’t be running around in your drawers, put on some britches.” Or, my dad, the Old Man, pronounced, “those are her step-ins.” I guess you can also pronounce, “draws,” if you want. These items, so much a part of life, are seldom discussed, except during Super Bowl or Victoria’s Secret commercials, and they ain’t the kind I’m talking about.
Sulled up – being quiet. It comes for a possum’s predisposition of playing dead when in danger.
Sweet feed – high protein pellet food for horses
Swanny – version of swear
Take and get – this is also similar to “take and carry,” which simply means to go get, or to carry.
Target gun – .22 caliber rifle
Teacakes – lightly sweetened flour cookie
Telephone table – small, single seat table on which early telephones rested
‘toe sack – Short for potato sack, the large burlap bags used to ship potatoes
Tote – to carry
Touchy – a little sensitive. “He’s touchy about that,” or “my muscles are touchy today.”
Towhead – little blonde or white-headed kid.
Tump – to turn over
Waller – to roll around on something. Hogs and buffalo waller, but a kid can waller around in bed and mess up the sheets.
Widder-woman – Where I’m from, any word ending in “ow” became an “er,” i.e. window/winder, pillow/piller, or widow/widder. So a widow was defined by her gender, widow-woman. It usually referred to the widow living alone, and the phrase possessed a subtle level of pity, or the need for someone to help in some way, or affirmation. “She’s a widder-woman, but she sews pretty good.” I never heard widow-man, though, simply, “He’s a widower.”
Wolf – While it usually means the four-legged cousin to coyotes, I believe the wolf described in the manuscript was the result of the botfly larvae.
Wooled her around – to lightly wrestle or hug with vigor
Y’all – This is the proper way to spell the single compound Texas word for “you all.”
Yellow jacket – a member of the wasp family that builds small, paper-like nests and stings to excess
Yonder – a place other than here
Those Good Old Sayings
Blow it out your barracks bag – The Old Timey Saying of the Week is on of my Old Man’s favorites. When frustrated or annoyed at someone, especially politicians, he say, “Blow it out your barracks bag!” I was grown before I realized it was a WWII expression that meant, in a polite way to “blow it out your a**.” We should probably use it more often…in a demure way, of course.
Ginning around – Okay, so I’m a little late on the Old Timey Phrase of the Week. Instead of taking care of my readers, I’ve been “ginning around” since we got back from Colorado on Friday. I’m pretty sure it’s a southern phrase, but it might have made its way north at some point. It comes from the days when farmers took their cotton to the gin. If you’ve been busy doing simple stuff, especially if you’re on your feet, you’re ginning around. Don’t gin too hard in this heat.
“He’s crooked as a dog’s hind leg” is usually used in reference to politicians, both local and national, but the old men often used it for anyone who skirted lawful or moral regulations. I bet you know someone who fits that description.
“He’s madder than an old sore-tailed tomcat.” This was used quite a lot up on the river. I’ve never seen an old sore-tailed tomcat, but I can imagine he’d be a little irritable. I’ve always wondered if the tomcat was mad through a combination of being old and sore-tailed, or just generally aggravated.
High cotton – When things are good, our Old Timey Saying for the day comes into play. “Money was rolling in and we were in high cotton.” Reaching back toward our agricultural roots, high cotton was used in a literal sense. When the cotton was high, it was easily picked and usually equated into good crops, bringing in the money. Hope you’re in high cotton this week.
Hug my neck – Those old aunts of mine used to see us when we were kids and say, “Come here and hug my neck.” Those last three words are our Old Time Saying of the Week. If the old folks missed someone, they might say, “I hope she comes by so I can hug her neck,” or “He needs to hug my neck before he leaves.” It’s an old country gesture of affection, usually for relatives, and doesn’t require some bizarre neck hold. Even though we might not be kin, you can come hug my neck at any book signing.
Let the gate down – When the War Department and I built our house, the street behind us was only two lanes. Fifteen years later, it’s six lanes, and very busy. When I tried to get out of the neighborhood yesterday, there was so much traffic coming from one way that I said, “Looks like somebody let the gate down.” This old country term originated with the cattle business, when a gate in the fence was opened, or a wire fence pulled to the side and laid down. Once opened, all the cattle flow through and when there is a big herd, it takes a while for them to pass.
Much Obliged – Up at the store, I remember the old timer’s finishing a transaction by saying, “Much obliged.” It’s a wonderful throwback to the days when folks were genuinely thankful for service, assistance, or even advice.
Playing possum – Meanwhile, back to the Old Timey Saying of the Week, we have “playing possum.” Leave out the O in opossum if you’re going to say it right. This critters have a perfect way to save themselves when in danger. They simply roll over and play dead. It works most of the time. The Old Man used to pretend to be asleep when us kids were wanting to play with him, so he was playing possum. Wonder of the Possum, country singer George Jones, ever played possum. Possum. I just like the word.
Sunday clothes – Our Old Timey Phrase of the Week is short, but long on meaning. “Sunday clothes” were those duds purchased to be worn only for church (sometimes called church clothes), but also for weddings, funerals or any other special occasion. The phrase expands to include “Sunday hat” and “Sunday shoes.” We were forever warned not to scuff our Sunday, or “dress shoes,” and to be careful of the Old Man’s dress hat. We even had a “dress belt.” The Old Man once told me, “Wipe the grease off the wrenches in your tool box so when you’re wearing your Sunday clothes and need a tool, you won’t get dirty.” Take care of your dress clothes and they’ll last until you outgrow them, y’all.
Straighten up and fly right – Then there were the days when Mama would get mad at me and tell me to “straighten up and fly right.” This Old Timey Saying of the Week usually made me roll my eyes, but after my back was turned. With that warning, we were supposed to get a better attitude, and I guess I did. I heard this came from a WWII Nat King Cole song, but he got it from somewhere, I bet. From what I have discovered, it came from “flying straight and level.” Maybe the old barnstormers?
“They had a falling out.” When folks have a falling out, it’s a disagreement that usually results in the silent treatment at the worst, or little or no communication for a long period of time. You can have a falling out in your personal life, or in business. I’ve read where it originated with the idea of two or more people in a wagon and one of them “fell out.” Now, don’t confuse the phrase with fainting. Folks, usually women, fall out from overwork, nerves, or maybe sickness. “I don’t know what happened to her, she just fell out.”
Up Under – There’s no definition here for “up under” but something can be up under the icebox, up under the car, up under the porch, or up under a barrel. The possibilities are endless. From my extensive five-minute research on this phrase, it may be a shorter version of “up and under,” but I can find no reference of either usage. It’s simply the way folks talked up in northeast Texas.