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

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Begins with “H”


Tom Mix and Cowboy Hat

Tom Mix, an old Hollywood film star poses with a gun in hand and is “hair case” on the floor.

Hack – A hackney coach.

Haint – Have not.

Hair Case – Hat.

Hair in the Butter – A delicate situation.

Hair Pants – Chaps made from a hair-covered hide.

Half Seas Over – A sailor’s expression for intoxicated, drunk.

Halloo or Hallow – Shout, hoot, to cry out loudly.

Hammer And Tongs – In a noisy, furious manner. “They went at it hammer and tongs.”

Hand And Glove – Intimate, familiar, closely united as a hand and its glove.

Hand Runnin’ – Consecutively.

Hanger-On – A dependant, one who eats and drinks without payment.

Hang Fire – Delay.

Hang Up One’s Fiddle – To give up. The opposite would be to “hang on to one’s fiddle.”

Hanker or Hankering – To have an incessant wish, strong desire, longing.

Happifying – Making happy.

Hard Case – Worthless, bad, unpleasant, – often referring to a person.

Hardfisted – Covetous, close-handed, miserly.

Hard Money – A common term for silver and gold, rather than paper money.

Hard Pushed or Hard Run – Hard pressed, to be in a difficulty, short of cash.

Hard Row To Hoe – A metaphor derived from hoeing corn, meaning a difficult matter or job to accomplish.

Harum-Scarum – A negative term applied to flighty persons or persons always in a hurry.

Hash – To settle one’s business.

Have a Mind To – To have a notion, to be willing.

Hay Baler – A horse, also called hay burner.

Hay Seed – Deragatory term for a farmer, also called hay shaker.

Haze – To haze round, is to go rioting about.

Head-Cheese – The ears and feet of swine cut up fine, boiled, and pressed into the form of a cheese.

Heap – A lot, many, a great deal. “He went through a heap of trouble to get her that piano.” Also refers to a crowd, a throng, a rabble.

Hearn – Heard.

Hear Tell – To hear a report of, to hear of.

Hearty As A Buck – Very well, healthy, hearty. A hunter’s phrase.

Heave In Sight – To come in sight, to appear. A nautical phrase that originated with approaching vessels which appeared to raise or heave itself above the horizon.

Heeled – To be armed with a gun. “He wanted to fight me, but I told him I was not heeled.”

Heft – Weight, ponderousness.

Hellabaloo – Riotous noise, confusion.

Hell-fired – Very, great, immensely; used for emphasis. He is just too hell-fired lazy to get any work done around here. Also “all-fired” and “jo-fired.”

cowboy boots and spursHell Rousers – Spurs.

Helter-Skelter – In a hurry, without order, tumultuously.

Hemp – Cowboy talk for rope; in verb form to hang someone. Hemp fever was a morbidly jocular term for a hanging. Hemp party (also string party) meant the same. A hemp committee was a group of vigilantes or a lynch mob (depending on your point of view) and a hemp necktie was the rope they did the deed with. Coined because cowboys used ropes made of Manila hem.

Hen Skins – A cowboy’s bedroll

Here’s how! – A toast, such as Here’s to your health.

Hern – Hers.

Hide – To beat, spank. “When I was a boy, I got plenty of hidings.

Hifer – Loiter.

Higgle – To chaffer, bargain, haggle.

Higgledy-Piggledy – In confusion.

High Binder – A dangerous and vicious man or horse.

High-Falutin – Highbrow, fancy, self-important, pompous. The origin is the Dutch word verlooten, meaning stilted.

High-Grader – In the mining camps of the Old West, a high-grader was a man who stole any big nuggets which he saw in the sluice boxes.

High Tail – To leave or ride off quickly.

Hill of Beans – Slang for something of trifling value, as in “it ain’t worth a hill of beans.”

Hindsite First – Backwards.

Hisn – His or his own.

Frontier Slang, Lingo & Phrases Book by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

More Terms, Expanded Definitions + Reverse Lookup + More Pictures

Hitch – A difficulty, an impediment.

To Hitch – To agree, to get along amicably.

Hitched – Got married.

Hitch in the Giddy-up – Not feeling well, as in: “I’ve had a hitch in my giddy-up the last couple days.”

Hither And Yon – Here and there.

Hit pay dirt – Mining term. To find something of value.

Hits the Flat – Go out on the prairie.

Hobble your lip – Shut up.

Hog at the Trough – Superior, outstanding, a leader

Hohokams – Means “vanished ones” in the Pima Indian language. The Hohokam Indians most likely became the Pima and Papago tribes.

Ho – A word used by teamsters to stop their teams.

Hobble – A scrape, a state of perplexity

Ho Down – A party or celebration

Hog-Killin Time – This a “what I mean” very good time!

Hog-Wallow – On some of the Western prairies, the ground has every appearance of having been rooted or torn up by hogs, when it is very rough, hence the name

Hog Ranch – A brothel and saloon that was often located near a military fort.

Hoity-Toity – An exclamation denoting surprise or disapprobation, with some degree of contempt.

Hold a Candle to – Measure up, compare to.

Hold Your Horses – Stay calm. “Hold your horses, we’re on our way.”

Hold Up – In referring to weather, it means to clear up, stop raining, etc.

Hollow – All hollow. Completely, wholly. “He beat him all hollow.

Holt – Hold. “Death has got holt of him.”

Honey-Fogle – To swindle, cheat, lay plans to deceive.

Hook – To steal.

By Hook Or By Crook – One way or other, by any expedient. “It can’t be done by hook or crook.”

Hooks – Spurs.

Hookshop – A brothel.

Honey-fuggled – To cheat, to pull the wool over one’s eyes.

Hoosegow – Jail, from the Spanish juzgado, meaning courthouse.

Hooter – A bit or a tiny amount.

Hop – A dance.

Hopped for Mama – A horse bucking.

Horn – A glass of liquor, ale or beer.

Hornswoggle – To cheat or trick, to pull the wool over one’s eyes.

Horse Thief Special – A raisn and boiled rice dish.

Horse Feathers – Ridiculous.

Horse Wrangler – Horse herder.

Hoss – A horse.

Hot as a Whorehouse on Nickel Night – Damned hot.

Hot Rock – Biscuit.

Hot Roll – Bedroll.

Huckleberry – As in “I’m your huckleberry” means “I’m just the man you’re looking for” or “I’m just the man for the job.”

Huckleberry Above a Persimmon – A cut above.

Hum – Home.

Humbug – A deception, hoax, imposter.

Hounds – Rowdies of the gold-rush days of San Francisco.

Hull – Saddle.

Hurricane Deck – The saddle of a bucking horse.

Husking Bee – A social event in which the community came together to husk corn and to drink. Also called a “husking frolic.”

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7 thoughts on “Western Slang, Lingo, and Phrases – A Writer’s Guide to the Old West”

  1. In an episode of “the life and legend of Wyatt Earp, the phrase ” I’ve been wanting to tree Wichita” was used, and I have heard this phrase in some “Death Valley Days” episodes. The phrase to tree a town is not defined in this web site. Can you find out what it means?

    1. Well, I think I got somewhat of an answer but I was a real cowboy quite a few times in my life..always country though but first Hollywood misuses phrases that I heard a lot..especially growing up in the Texas panhandle in the middle of no where so our kind of talk is becoming a thing of the past…but we said tree something fairly regular, using for things like..we were out hunting pheasant and a bobcat would tree us…as in run us up a tree..even though most of them cats can climb trees…I assure you…even with a shotgun in your hand…any kind of mountain lion or wild cat will leave you in fear and will do stupid shit…but you can imagine how we would use the phrase in a lot of other instances like you were scared and backed up or some such like that…but I’m on here trying to find a good word for a song I’m trying to write about Billy the kid so…if anyone’s got a good thought for shooting a gun slinger in the old West… That might sound better than shoot…I realize someone claiming to be one of the last country folk around writing a country song…but I’ve found a lot of them are musicians…we kind of were out off necessity from there not being anything to do in the middle of no where other than play music with each other so…I really would welcome any input any one on here might have for the song as I’m not great at navigating the internet

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