Writers tend to write with their own separate and unique voice which simply means that a strong writer’s voice can’t be mistaken for someone else. The more powerful the “voice” of the author, the more unique and identifiable they are to their readers. It’s more about style than anything else and the author’s natural way of telling a story. But when you write in a certain time period, you also need to know the language of the day.
When writing westerns, I think I absorbed a great deal from watching television westerns as a young girl. You know them all, Bonanza, Rifleman, Maverick, Gunsmoke, and the like. It also didn’t hurt that my in-laws were Texans, and if one spends any amount of time in Texas, it’s impossible not to pick up on the nuances of the speech, the twang, the cadence of the way Texans speak.
But I needed more help than that when writing my westerns because over the years some of those beautiful words and expressions faded into history. I found this book, The Cowboy Dictionary subtitled, The Chin Jaw Words and Whing-Ding ways of the American West. Author, Ramon F. Adams. I don’t think I’ve ever written a western without digging into this book. Here’s a few terms, words and expressions from the old WEST:
Boston dollar- cowboy’s name for a penny
Buck out in smoke – to die in a gun battle
Cattle Kate – Any woman involved in cattle rustling. The original Cattle Kate Maxwell, real name Ella Watson was hanged with her lover for cattle stealing in Wyoming during the Rustler’s War.
Didn’t keep his twine on his tree – Said of a rustler who did not keep rope on the saddle horn where it belonged.
Fleabag- cowboy’s name for his bedroll
Giggle talk- what a cowboy calls foolish speech
Hang up his rope- Cowboy expression meaning to quit a job or quit their calling. Also said if one is too old to work with cattle any longer
High-line rider- what a cowboy called an outlaw. He usually rode the high country to keep a lookout for sheriffs and posses.
Lead poisoned- a cowboy’s term for being shot
Lone ranger- a cowboy’s term for an unmarried man
Mouthy – a cowboy word for someone inclined to talk a great deal. Cowboys’ motto, “The bigger the mouth the better it looks shut.”
Padding out his belly – someone inclined to eat at every opportunity
Pecos Bill- a cowboy name for a liar, from the mythical character of the West
Peddler of loads – teller of tall tales and “Campaign against the truth” and “could color up a story redder than a Navajo blanket.”
Prayer book- cowboy’s word for his cigarette papers
Powders—cowboy’s term for orders from the boss
Ride herd on a woman – cowboy’s term for courting a woman
Soft grub- a cowboy’s term for hotel food or fancy victuals
Washing out the canyon- cowboy’s expression for taking a bath
Yack- a cowboy’s name for a stupid person
Do you have a favorite word, slang or expression? If we were to write a book of terms and expressions today, what would we put in that book? Of the above terms, which one surprises you the most or makes you laugh? Post a comment and be entered to win a 2 in 1 Desire, Secret Heir of Sunset Ranch/Expecting a Bolton Baby (or another of my backlist books) And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Twins for the Texan!!
Twins…and another baby on the way for this cowboy from USA TODAY bestselling author Charlene Sands!
After Wyatt Brandt rescues Brooke McKay en route to a Texas wedding, they spend one hot night together before going their separate ways. Now Brooke’s back with news she isn’t sure the wealthy rancher is ready to hear—especially when she discovers he’s already a father…of twins!
Being a single dad is a full-time job Wyatt can’t do alone. He doesn’t expect the ideal nanny to be the beauty who briefly shared his bed. But he accepts her help gladly—not knowing her little secret will change his family forever…