How Well Do You Know Old West Lingo?

Isadora Teich

Image: Paramount Pictures

About This Quiz

Think your Old West slang is in apple pie order? The era of the American West was far bigger than many people realize. Lasting roughly from the early 1800s to the admission of the last mainland states into the union in 1912, there was over a century of the wild, wild west as America expanded. This land generally includes almost all land west of the Mississippi River. It was a massive expansion led by hard-working people on the frontier who weren't afraid of living rough. 

The guns, aesthetic, hard living and pioneering spirit have made this era a popular one for historians, artists, filmmakers, and everyday people around the world to explore. There are few images as massively iconic as that of the American cowboy. While often pictured as a lone American man wandering the plains on horseback, cowboys often actually worked in large groups to keep the danger of life out in the wild at bay. They had to cope with unforgiving weather, wolves, Native American tribes and the West's infamous outlaws day in and day out.   

If you know your Old West slang, let her rip and see if you can get daisy results on this quiz! 

What is a hoedown?

In the Old West, a hoedown could refer to any party or celebration. People might have drunk Jack of Diamonds, what they called rye whiskey, at a ho down.

What was joy juice?

People of the Old West loved their whiskey. It was also called Kansas Sheep Dip.

What is a Peacemaker?

The Colt Single Action Army Revolver was introduced in 1873. Called The Peacemaker, this gun is one of the most iconic of the Old West.

If someone is off their rocker, how do they act?

There were a lot of ways to say that someone acted strangely in the Old West. Someone could be off their nut, off their rocker or off their chump.

A tee-totaller doesn't do what?

This bit of slang has stuck around. A tee-totaller does not drink any kind of alcohol.

If someone has a hankering for something, how do they feel about it?

This Old West expression has stuck around. To have a hankering for something means to want it badly.

If someone is as ugly as a mud fence they are:

This is a fun insult from the era. It was used to express that someone was incredibly ugly.

What does it mean to vamoose?

This is the Old West version of scram. It may be an English twist on the Spanish "vamos" which means "let's go."

Someone who is barkin' at a knot is __________.

Barkin' at a knot meant to do something useless or try to do something impossible. It could also just refer to flat out wasting time.

In the Old West, which of these people would have been called a Cattle Kate?

While the most iconic image of the Old West is of a cowboy wandering the planes alone, that is not entirely accurate. There were numerous female cowgirls and outlaws roaming the Wild West.

Every cowboy had an equalizer, which is a __________.

Innovations in gun-making made them far more inexpensive and widely available than ever before during this era. Almost everyone on the frontier had an equalizer of some kind, and the cheapest ones were widely called "Suicide Specials."

Cowboys called people who came from ________ greenhorns.

Eastern city folk who didn't know anything about cowboy ways were called greenhorns. They were also called green peas and tenderfoots.

If a cowboy was in liquor he was:

Drinking was a big part of the way of life of the Old West. There were numerous slang words for both different types of alcohol and being drunk.

To rook someone is to:

To rook someone is to dupe or cheat them. This was common due to the prevalent crime of the Old West.

Someone described as a queer fish would have been:

Back in the day, there were many ways to say that a person was odd. These include queer fish, odd fish and odd stick.

What is a lambasting?

A lambasting is a thrashing or beating. To lam someone is to beat them.

If someone doesn't have a tail feather left, they are:

People flocked to the frontier to seek their fortunes and better opportunities. However, between gambling, the harsh climates, crime, and all of the dangers of the frontier, it was far easier to lose money than make it.

What is an Arkansas toothpick?

An Arkansas toothpick was a long, sharp knife. They could also be referred to as a Missouri or California toothpick.

A nighthawk was a cowboy who:

While on a cattle drive, one unlucky cowboy would have to keep watch all night while the others slept. He was called a nighthawk.

Someone who is painting the town red is:

This phrase from the Old West has stuck around. It means to head out into town for a wild time.

A man's rib is his what?

A man back in the day might have referred to his wife as his rib. This likely is a reference to the story of Adam and Eve.

Guttersnipes were __________ children.

The Old West was an unforgiving place full of dangers. Many children on the frontier became homeless orphans who lived in the streets.

If someone is a screw, they are a:

Jailers and prison wardens were called screws. The word could also be used to describe someone who tries to get all they can out of everyone they deal with or a miser.

Someone who is on the shoot is:

A lot of Old West slang is gun-related. A cowboy might have said "Look out for Daniel, he's on the shoot tonight."

To keep something dry is to keep it:

If someone in the Old West told you something and then told you to keep that dry, you better not tell anyone. It meant to keep something a secret.

If a woman gives a man the mitten, what has she done?

Back in the Old West, a woman who rejected a man's proposal or broke up with him would have done this. For example: "After Annie caught Jeb with Elle, she gave him the mitten."

Six-shooter coffee is_________.

While there is not as much coffee slang as alcohol-related slang from the era, there is some. Six-shooter coffee was incredibly strong.

What does it mean to shoot the crow?

This is a particularly fun slang phrase of the era. It meant to walk into a saloon, order a drink and walk out without paying for it.

If someone was eating mysteries, what were they eating?

This is a similar to mystery meat. If people were eating sausages but didn't know what kind of meat was in them, they would call them mysteries.

Someone who is above snakes is:

If you are above snakes, you are above ground. This means you are still alive.

A yarn is a what?

This one has not quite been forgotten. This is why to spin a yarn means to tell a story.

If someone is a saphead, they are ____________.

If someone on the frontier called someone else a saphead, they did not think very highly of their intelligence. Other insults include scamp and scape-grace.

If someone is called a longrider, they are a/an:

In the Old West, outlaws were called longriders. This is because they would have to ride long distances while on the run from the law.

What does it mean to funkify someone?

This word could mean to frighten or alarm someone. There was a lot to be frightened of on the frontier.

What does the phrase "man for breakfast" refer to?

This refers to the bodies of those who died in the night and are found in the streets in the morning, or who died in saloons the night before. The night after a shootout where two men died, someone in a saloon might have said that the saloon had two men for breakfast.

It sounds like a cooking term, but which of these is cowboy speak for riding a horse too hard?

If you were a wild west bandit running from the posse, you probably didn't think too much about how your horse was doing. Back then, a horse ridden until it was overheated or exhausted was said to be baked.

Rolling through Deadwood or Tombstone in the 1800s? Where might you have seen a bustle?

Starting in the mid-19th century or so, women began adding pads or cushions under their dresses to lift the fabric up and create a stylish figure. This feature was actually particularly practical on the crude dirt roads way out west, where the bustle also kept the back to the dress hem from dragging in the dirt. Bustles got larger and more complex before the fashion faded out by the early 1900s.

Which of these areas would be a good option for starting yourself a little homestead in the old west?

In western slang, the word bottoms or bottom-lands referred to rich soil, particularly that desirable soil along a riverbank. Barrens or Badlands typically referred to land where nothing much would grow, making it a poor choice for those seeking to start a farm.

If an old-school cowboy told you someone was dressed to kill, he meant...

Today, you might tell someone wearing a fancy new outfit that they are dressed to kill. A little over a century ago, however, the phrase meant something totally different. A wild west cowboy would use the phrase to describe someone who was equipped with a pair of guns....because he was actually preparing to kill.

If you tell someone to quit their caterwauling, what are you asking them to stop doing?

Caterwauling is one of those totally fun bits of old west lingo because it sounds so different from many of the modern terms you're probably used to. Back in the day, this term usually referred to terrible singing, but could also be used to reference complaining or whining.

Riding that horse like you're trying to win a race? Back in an old frontier town, they'd say you were....

Back before cars and trains, horses were pretty much the only way to travel on land. If you had to get somewhere quick, you'd burn the breeze....or ride your horse at speeds that would make Kentucky Derby winners jealous.

Can you guess what in the world a dead man's hand was most associated with in an old west town?

If you are bucking the tiger (that's playing poker for you city folks), you'd want to beware the dead man's hand. Generally thought to consist of two black aces and two black eights, it's rumored to be the hand Wild Bill Hickock was holding when he was gunned down in Deadwood in 1876.

Riding along on a cattle drive? Which of these might you use to start a fire to cook your supper?

When you're riding out where the buffalo roam, there's plenty of dried manure left dotting the pasture. These dried hunks of waste were known as prairie coal to the cowboys of old, and were used to fuel fires for cooking and warmth.

Guess which of these was wild west lingo for wild horses that once roamed across the prairies.

A wild horse yet to be tamed was known as a bangtail, while a bucking horse of any type was called a boil over. It would take a real bronco buster, or determined cowboy skilled at taming horses, to make these steeds suitable for ownership by average folks.

Dodge City was full of dastardly dudes back in the day, but what would it mean if you ran into someone there who was the real Simon pure?

Way back in 1717, a play called "A Bold Stroke for a Wife" hit it big in England. It provided the world with the phrase Simon pure, meaning genuine, authentic or the real deal. The term spread across the Atlantic and was common in old west speech.

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