Western Slang, Lingo, and Phrases – A Writer’s Guide to the Old West

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Begins with “S”


Cattle Trail

A “saddle stiff” driving the herd along the trail, 1905.

Saddle Bum – A drifter.

Saddle Stiff – A cowboy, also referred to as “saddle warmer” and “saddle slicker.”

Saddle Tramp – A cowboy who spends most of his time in the chuck line.

Sadying – A simple and unaffected mode of dancing.

Sagamore – The title of a chief or ruler among some of the American tribes of Indians.

Sagebrush Men – Cowboy who worked in the arid portions of Montana, Colorado and Wyoming.

Sage Hen – A woman.

Sakes Alive – The equivalent of “Good heavens!”

Salt Horse – Corned beef.

Salting – Planting rich ore samples in an unprofitable mine to attract unwary buyers.

Salt-Lick – A saline spring, where animals resort for drink.

Salt-Water Vegetables – A term for oysters and clams.

Sam Hill – A euphemism for the devil. “What in the Sam Hill are you doing?”

Sand – Guts; courage; toughness. “You got sand, that’s fer shore.”

Santiago – Coronado’s favorite charge was “Santiago”, Spanish for St.James, Spain’s soldier saint.

Saphead – Blockhead, a stupid fellow.

Sappy – Young, not firm, weak.

Satinet – A twilled cloth made of cotton and wool.

Savage as a Meat Axe – Extremely savage.

Savagerous – Furious.

Savanna – An open plain, or meadow without wood.

Savey or Sabby – Corrupted from the Spanish saber, to know.To know, to comprehend.

To Saw – To hoax, to play a joke upon one.

Sawbones – Surgeon.

Sawdust – Counterfeit gold-dust or money.

Say -A speech, what one has to say.

Sawdusty – Cajoling, flattering.

Scab Herder – Derogatory term for sheep herder.

Scad – Large quantities, plenty, an abundance.

Scace – Scarce.

Scalawag or Scallywag – A mean, rotten or worthless person.

Scaly – Mean, stingy.

Scalawag – A mean, graceless fellow.

Scamp – A worthless fellow.

Scamper Juice – Whiskey.

Scape – Gallows – One who has escaped, though deserving of the gallows.

Scape-Grace – A term of reproach, a graceless fellow.

Scare Up – To obtain, get. “Can you scare up five dollars?”

Scoff away, scuff away – To blow away, drive away, impel.

School Ma’am or Marm – A school-mistress, teacher.

Sconce – The head, pate.

Scoop in – Trick, entice, inveigle. “He got scooped into a poker game and lost his shirt.”

Scoot – Move fast, run, get going.

Score Off – To get the best of one, especially in a verbal debate.

Scow – A large flat-bottomed boat, generally used as a ferry boat, or as a lighter for loading and unloading vessels when they cannot approach the wharf.

Scranch – To crunch, crack, or break any hard thing between the teeth.

Scrap – To fight or box.

Scrape – A shave.

Scraper – A razor.

Scraps – The dry, husky, and skinny residuum of melted fat.

Scratch – Not worth much. “No great scratch.”

Scratch – To come to the encounter, begin a fight, i.e. To come to the scratch. Also means to spur a horse.

Scratching Rake – A comb.

Screamer – An extraordinary person.

Screaming – First-rate, splendid.

Screw – One who squeezes all he can out of those with whom he has any dealings, an extortioner, miser. Also means salary, wages. Also means a jailer, turnkey, or prison warden.

Screw Loose – Something wrong. “He’s got a screw loose.”

Scrouge – To crowd, to squeeze.

Scrouger –  A bouncing fellow or girl.

Scrub – A horse of little value.

Schruncher – One who eats greedily.

Scuds – Money.

Scuss – Scarce.

See About – To attend to, to consider.

See How The Cat Jumps – A metaphorical expression meaning, to discover the secrets or designs of others.

See the Elephant – Originally meant to see combat for the first time, later came to mean going to town, where all the action was or to go somewhere to experience a “worldly event.” Many times denotes disappointment of high-raised expectations.

Sell Out – Leave quick.

Serve Up – To expose to ridicule, to expose.

Set About – To chastise, beat, thrash. “When I got home he set about me with a strap.”

Set By or Set Much By –  To regard, to esteem. “He behaved himself more wisely than all, so that his name was much set by.”

Set Her Cap For Him – To direct her attentions to him, to endeavor to win his affections.

Set Store By – To set value upon, to appreciate.

Settled – Sentenced to prison.

Set-To – Argument, debate, contest in words.

Setting-Pole – A pole pointed with iron, used for propelling vessels or boats up rivers.

Settle One’s Hash – To properly punish one.

Seven by Nine – Something or someone of inferior or common quality. Originated from common window panes of that size.

Sewn Up – Exhausted, finished, done. Also means intoxicated.

Shack – Bunkhouse.

Shack – A vagabond, a low fellow. “He’s a poor shack of a fellow.”

Shackly – Loose, rickety.

Shake – A prostitute.

Shakes – Not much, not so good. “His horse riding abilities are no great shakes.” Also means a moment, an instant. “Hold on, I’ll get to it a couple of shakes.” Also means a good opportunity, offer, bargain, or chance. “He gave me a good shake on that land.”

Shake A Stick At – When a man is puzzled to give one an idea of a very great number, he calls it ‘more than you can shake a stick at.’

Shake Down – A cowboy’s bedroll.

Shakester, Shickster – A female.

Shake Up – To obtain, get, procure. “Can you help me shake up a fiddle player for the barn dance?

Shank of the Evening – Latter part of the afternoon.

Shakes – The fever and ague.

Shakes – No great shakes. Of no great value, little worth.

Shaky – A term applied by lumbermen, dealers in timber, and carpenters, to boards which are inclined to split from defects in the log from which they have been sawed.

Shaney, Shanny – A fool.

Shank’s Mare, Shank’s Pony – On foot.

Shank – The balance, what remains. “Why don’t you come by and spend the shank of the evening with me?

Shanty – A hut, or mean dwelling.

Sharps – Any firearm manufactured Christian Sharps for his Sharps Rifle Company. This term also applied to professional gamblers who cheated at the Poker tables.

Sharp Set – Hungry.

Sharp Stick – ‘He’s after him with a sharp stick,’ i. e. he’s determined to have satisfaction, or revenge.

Shave – A narrow escape, a false alarm, a hoax.

Christmas Eve, 1901

This cute lil’ shaver hangs a stocking for Santa  in 1901.

Shaver – A child or young person of either sex; “What a cute little shaver.”

Shaver – One that is close in bargains, or a sharp dealer

Shave Tail – A green, inexperienced person.

Shebang – A shanty or small house of boards.

Shecoonery – A whimsical corruption of the word chicanery. “This town’s got a monstrous bad name for meanery and shecoonery of all sorts

Sheepherder’s Delight – Cheap whiskey.

Shet – Shut.

Shin – Borrow money.

Shindig – A dance, party, celebration.

Shindy – Uproar, confusion, a row, a spree.

Shine – To take the shine off, is to surpass in beauty or excellence. To take a shine to a person, is to take a fancy to him or her. To cut or make a shine, is to make a great display.

Shin Out – Run away.

Shirk – To procure by mean tricks, to steal.

Shivaree – A boisterous party for newlyweds.

Shoal – To lounge about lazily.

Shootin’ Iron – Six-gun or a rifle.

Shoot, Luke, or Give up the Gun – Do it or quit talking about it.

Shoot the Cat – Vomit.

Shoot the Crow – Obtain a drink in a saloon and leave without paying.

Shop-mades – Boots.

Shote – A young hog, a pig partially grown.

Shote – An idle, worthless man.

Shot in the Neck – Drunk.

Shot its Back – A horse bucking.

Shove the queer – To pass counterfeit money.

Shuck Off – Take clothes off.

Shucks – Worthless people or things.

Shunt – To move, turn aside.

Shut – Quit, rid. “I want to be shut of you!”

Shut Pan – Shut up, shut your mouth.

Shut yer cock holster – Shut yer mouth.

To Shy – To throw a light substance, as a flat stone, or a shell, with a careless jerk. Also means to turn aside, or start, as a horse, to sheer. And means, to hang about.

Sick As A Horse – ‘I’m as sick as a horse,’ exceedingly sick.

Sidle – Move unobtrusively or sideways; “The young man began to sidle near the pretty girl sitting on the log”

Signalize – To communicate information by means of signals or telegraph.

A tumbleweed up against a “silk” fence in western Kansas.

Silk – Barbed wire.

Simon Pure – The real thing, a genuine fact. “This is the Simon pure.”

Sin-Buster – A preacher.

Singin’ to ‘Em – Standing night guard.

Sinker – Biscuit.

Sipper – Gravy

Sittin’ Her – Courting a girl.

Sixes And Sevens – To be in a state of disorder and confusion.

Six-shooter Coffee – Strong coffee.

Six-shooter Horse – A fast horse.

Skedaddle – Scurry away or run like hell, get, leave, go. “I best skedaddle.”

Skeersome – Frightful.

Skeezick, skeesick – A mean contemptible fellow.

Sketchily – In a “sketchy” manner – lacking substance, superficial, incomplete.

Skid – A piece of light timber from ten to twenty feet in length, upon which heavier timber or other supplies are rolled or slid from place to place.

Skilly – Water-gruel in workhouses or prisons.

Skilts – Brown trowsers formerly worn in New England, that reach just below the knees.

Skin a Razor – To drive a hard bargain.

Skin-Flint – A tight or close-fisted person with their money.

Skin Game – A swindle.

Skinned – To keep an eye on, lookout.

Skink – To serve a drink.

Skip a Cog – To make a mistake or error.

Skittles! – Nonesense!

Skulduggery – Rascality, treachery.

Skull – The head man anywhere, such as a miner owner or the president.

Skungle – To disappear, make gone.

Skunk Cabbage – A strong-scented, repulsive plant.

Sky A Copper – Toss up a penny.

Skunk Eggs – Onions.

Slab-sided – Straight, stiff. Usually applied to people who were prim, formal, or stuffy.

Slangander – To slander, gossip, backbiting.

Slang-Whanger – A writer or noisy talker.

Slantindicular – Slanting, oblique.

Slap – Paint, rouge, cosmetics. Sometimes also used to indicate cheap wall paint.

Slap-bang – a Low eating house.

Slap-Jacks – Pancakes.

Slat – Throw down with violence. “That cowboy slatted his brains out then threw him in the horse tank.”

Slate – Abuse, quarrel.

Slathers – Abundance, no end of.

Slatted its Sails – A horse bucking.

Slazy – A corruption of the word sleazy.

Slew or Slue – In seaman’s language, to turn something around.

Slewed – Moderately drunk.

Slewer – A vulgar word for servant girl.

Slick or Slike – A pronunciation of sleek.  “Her face was smooth and slike.”

Slick – To swallow.

Slick as a Whistle or Slick as Grease – To do something very smoothly.

Slicker – A group of vigilantes who operated in Missouri in the first half of the 19th Century. To “enforce” their “rules,” they were known to whip offenders with hickory switches, which was known in the Ozarks at the time, as “slicking.” Also refers to a cowboy coat.

Slicking – Whipping with hickory switches.

Slick Up – To dress up or make make fine.

Slimsey – Flimsey, frail.

Sling – A drink composed of equal parts of rum and sweetened water.

Slink – A sneaking fellow.

Slinky – Thin, lank.

Slipe – A distance. “I’ve got a long slipe to go.”

To Let Sliver – To let slip, let fly.

Sling Your Bunk – Go away.

Slog – A blow, a fight with the fists.

Slogging – A beating, a thrashing, a fight.

Slommack – Prostitute, floozie, slut, or dirty untidy woman..

Slope – To run away, decamp, slip away.

Slops – Large and loose trousers.

Slower than molasses in January – Really slow.

Slug – An ingot of gold or silver, a twenty-dollar piece.

Slumguzzling – Deceiving, humbugging.

Slummy – A servant girl.

Slump – To recite badly, fail, bungle, awkward.

Slumpy – Marshy; easily broken through..

Slush – Grease or fat from salt meat

Slue – Many, large number

Behind the Barn, E.W. Kelley, 1906

These small fries are up to no good behind the barn, photo by E.W. Kelley, 1906.

Small Fry – Young children or persons of little importance.

Small Potatoes – Mean, contemptible, worthless. “He is small potatoes.”

Smart Sprinkle – A good deal; a good many. Used in the interior of the Western States.

Smock-face – A white face, a face without any hair.

Smoke Pole – Six-gun, also referred to as a “smoke wagon.”

Smooth – A meadow, or grass field.

Smoutch – To gouge, to take unfair advantage.

To Smutch – To blacken with smoke, soot, or coal. “I have smutched my fingers.”

Snake Out – Drag or haul out, as a snake from its hole.

Snake Pizen – Whiskey.

Snapped – Drunk.

Snatch – A hasty meal, a snack.

Snapper – An impudent tattler, impertinent talk, constant chatter.

Snapperhead – An impertinent fellow, one who snaps or answers to quickly or impudently.

Snippeny, snippy, sniptious, snippish – Vain, conceited.

Snipper-Snapper – An effeminate young man; a trifler.

Snipsnap – Tart dialogue, quick replies.

Snotted – Being reprimanded, hauled over the coals.

Snoozer – A thief who robs hotel guests.

Snorter – Impolite reference to a dashing or riotous fellow. A vulgar Western term.

Snuffy – A wild or spirited horse.

Soak – To bake thoroughly.

Drunk in 1897

Drunk in 1897

Soaked – Drunk.

Soap-Lock – A lock of hair made to lie smooth by soaping it.

Sockdologer – A powerful punch or blow.

Sodbuster – Farmer.

Soft down on – In love with.

Soft-horn – A Tenderfoot, someone new to the West.

Soft Horse – A horse with little stamina.

Soft Soap or Soft Sawder – Flattery; blarney.

Soft Tack – Bread.

Softy – Silly person, half-witted.

Sog – Dullness, lethargy.

Soiled Dove – Prostitute.

Sold His Saddle – Disgraced.

Sold Up – Poor or distressed.

Sole-slogger – A shoe-maker.

Someone to Ride the River With – A person to be counted on; reliable; got it where it counts.

Sonk, Sonkey – A stupid fellow.

Sonofabitch Stew – A cowboy concoction that contained cow heart, testicles, tongue, liver, and marrow gut. Probably first served on a trail drive using the ingredients at hand.

Sossle Or Sozzle – A lazy or sluttish woman.

Sound on the Goose – True, staunch, reliable.

Soup – Nitroglycerine. Was often used to open bank vault. Also called “oil.”

Sourdough – In cowboy lingo — a cook or a bachelor. In mining and Old West slang, a sourdough was an experienced prospector, or a veteran in his field..

Sour On – To get sick of someone or something,  to give up something out of disgust.

Sowbelly – Bacon

Span – A span of horses consists of a pair that are very much alike and harnessed side by side.

Spark – A lover, a beau.

Courting, 1900

This couple is sparking over the fence in 1900.

Sparking – Courting.

Spell – Time; for a while.

Spider – A cast iron frying-pan with three legs.

Spike Team – A wagon drawn by three horses, or by two oxen and a horse.

Spill – A strip of paper rolled up to light a lamp or or a cigar.

Splendiferous – Splendid, fine.

Spooney – A stupid or silly fellow, also a disgusting drunk.

Sportsman – A term often applied to a gambler.

Sposh – A mixture of mud and water.

Squally – A sailor’s word for windy, gusty.

Squatter – One who settles on land without legal title, a widespread practice in the West.

Squaw – An extremely derisive term for an Indian woman. Though this term was widely used in the Old West, so much so that it became common language, it should not be perpetuated. as the term loosely translates to the “C” word that might be utilized today.

Squaw Wood – Cowchips.

Squeeze the Biscuit – Grabbing the saddle horn not something a cowboy wants to get caught doing.

Squirtish – Dandified.

Sparkle Up – To hasten, be quick.

Sparrow Catching – Looking for a girl to go out with.

Speeler – A gambler.

Spindigo – Said of one who has come out badly, such as failing an examination or losing on the Stock Exchange.

Splashing – Talking without making sense or talking too much.

Split Fair – Tell the truth, divulge, inform.

Spoon – To court, make love, woo.

Spoons – Equivalent of money, means or fortune.

Spoops, Spoosy – A soft-brained fellow, or one whose manners are objectionable.

Spread oneself – To boast.

Spudgel – To move or run away quickly.

Squabash – To kill.

Squaddle – To depart rapidly, begone, cut and run, skedaddle.

Squibob – A term applied in contempt or indifference.

Squiffed, Squiffy – Slightly intoxicated.

Squinny – To cause a laugh, to laugh, wink, smile.

Staddle – A young tree; a tree left to grow when others are cut.

Frontier Slang, Lingo & Phrases Book by Kathy Alexander

More Terms, Expanded Definitions + Reverse Lookup + More Pictures

Stall Your Mug – Go away, make yourself scarce.

Stancheous – Strong; durable.

Stand In –  To cost. “This horse stands me in two hundred dollars.”

Stand the gaff – Take punishment in good spirit. “He can really stand the gaff.”

Stars – A Southern pronunciation of the word stairs, like bar for bear.

To Stave – To break a hole in, to break, to burst, as, ‘to stave a cask.’ Also means to hurry or press forward.

Stave Off – To push away as with a staff, to delay, as, ‘to stave off the execution of the project

Steamer – Tobacco pipe.

Steel – Spurs.

Stemps – Legs.

Stem-winder – Applied to anything quite perfect, finished, with the latest improvements.

Stepping Ken – A dance house.

Stevedore – A man employed in loading and unloading vessels

Stew – To be in a stew, is to be in a heat, a confusion of mind.

Stew in one’s own juice – To suffer from one’s own action.

Stick – An inefficient person.

To Stick – To take in, to impose upon, to cheat in trade. “I’m stuck with a counterfeit note”

Sticker – A butcher or slaughterer.

Sticks – Furniture.

Stickling – Hesitating, delaying.

Stingo – Strong ale.

Stiver –  To run, to move off.

Stob – Small stake.

Stogies – Cheap, secondhand boots.

Stomp – Dance.

Stove-pipe – A silk hat.

Strapper – A woman of a bulky form. A large, tall person.

Strapping – Huge, lusty, bouncing, as, ‘a strapping lass.

Streaked or Streaky – Frightened, annoyed, confused, alarmed.

Stretcher – A notorious lie.

Stretchin’ the Blanket – Telling a tall tale.

String – A line of horses.

String – A common name among teamsters for a whip.

String-Beans – French beans, so called from the string-like substance stripped from the side of the pod in preparing it for the table.

Stringing a Whizzer – Telling a tall tale.

Strong enough to float a colt – Very strong coffee.

Stoved up – Crippled, badly injured, or too old. Also, “stove in.”

Stuff – A weak, worthless person, one without energy.

Stuffy – Stout, mettlesome, resolute

Stumper – A puzzler.

Stump Orator – A man who preaches from the stump of a tree, or other elevation.

Stumpage – The sum paid to owners of land for the privilege of cutting the timber growing thereon.

Strumpet – A prostitute.

Suck Egg – A silly person.

Sucker – A hard drinker, a drunkard.

Sucking Hind Tit – Being last and getting the least.

Suitcase Rancher – An absentee rancher.

Sugar – Kiss or loving. “Honey, come over here and give your grandma some sugar.”

Sulky – A carriage for a single person, generally in the form of a chaise.

Sunday-face – The behind, buttocks.

Sure As A Gun – Absolutely certain.

Surface Coal – Cowchips.

Swack-up – A falsehood.

Swad – A crowd, numerous, a mass, bunch.

Swacking – Huge, robust.

Swad – A lump, mass, or hunch, also, a crowd.

Swag – A term used in speaking of booty lately obtained.

I Swamp It! – An interjection of the same meaning as I swan!

Swamp Seed – Rice.

Swan – So surprised, ready to faint or pass out. “Well, I swan.”

Swanga – A word used among some southern blacks in connection with buckra, as swanga buckra, meaning a dandy white man, or literally, a dandy devil.

Sweep – The pole or piece of timber moved on a fulcrum or post, used to lower and raise a bucket in a well for drawing water.

Sweet On – In love with.

To Swinge – To whip, to bastinade, to punish.

Swate – A violent slap or blow in the face with the open hand.

Switch In – To bring in quickly, to incite promptness. “Now’s your time, boys; switch in and let them have it.”

I Swow! – An exclamation.

Sycher – A contemptible person.


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