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There are 230 words in Historically American:

Adjourn (1 of 2 entries) (1856)

At Bowdoin College, adjourns are the occasional holidays given when a Professor
unexpectedly absents himself from recitation.

Adjourn (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

At the University of Vermont, this word as a verb is used in the same sense as is
the verb BOLT at Williams College; e.g. the students adjourn a recitation, when
they leave the recitation-room en masse, despite the Professor.

American (1776)
When our representatives in General Congress, Assembled, on July 4, 1776,
declared “That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and
Independent States,” the question immediately arose: What do you call the
citizens of the newly named United States of America? Our answer was to
shorten that mouthful to its last word and add n, a choice that has vexed our
neighbors in Canada and Mexico ever since. For are not they too Americans? But
consider the alternatives. We could be called United Statesians, as Canadian and
English writers have suggested. Our own citizens have proposed Usonians, Usans,
Usarians, Ustatians, Unisians, Unitans, Fredonians, and Columbians. Columbia, in
fact, was a serious possibility for the name of our country; it was already in use in
1775 by the poet Phyllis Wheatley, and it has been a favorite of poetic patriots
ever since, as in the song “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.” That name was
taken so seriously that our nation’s capital is located in the District of Columbia.
But to this day nobody has improved on the flatly descriptive United States of
America, and so its people have remained Americans. The name America has
been current ever since a German cartographer, Martin Waldseemüller, named
the continent after explorer and navigator Amerigo Vespucci in 1507. Colonists
from England, a century later, at first reserved the designation Americans for the
original native inhabitants. Soon, however, the descendents of English settlers
felt native enough to call themselves Americans, thereby to distinguish
themselves from English visitors or immigrants. By 1700, writers on both sides of
the Atlantic were discussing what it means to be an American – referring this time
to the descendents of those who came from Europe. It remained for the
Declaration of Independence to change all Americans from colonists of England
to citizens of their own country.

Annarugians (1800)
At Centre College, Kentucky, is a society called the Annarugians, “composed,”
says a correspondent, “of the wildest of the College boys, who, in the most
fantastic disguises, are always on hand when a wedding is to take place, and join
in a most tremendous Charivari, nor can they be forced to retreat until they have
received a due proportion of the sumptuous feast prepared.”

Apple pie (1697)

Samuel Sewall, distinguished ALUMNUS (1696) of Harvard College and citizen of
Boston, went on a picnic expedition to Hog Island on October 1, 1697. There he
dined on apple pie. He wrote in his diary, “Had first Butter, Honey, Curds and
Cream. For Dinner, very good Rost Lamb, Turkey, Fowls, Applepy.”
That is the first, but hardly the last, American mention of a dish whose patriotic
symbolism is expressed in a 1984 book by Susan Purdy, As Easy As Pie: “This is
IT! – what our country and flag are as American as. Since the earliest colonial
days, apple pies have been enjoyed in America for breakfast, for an entrée, and
for dessert. Colonists wrote home about them and foreign visitors noted apple pie
as one of our first culinary specialties.” We cannot claim to have invented the
apple pie, just to have perfected it. As long ago as 1590, the English poet Robert
Greene wrote in his Arcadia, “Thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes.” But
Noah Webster’s American dictionary of 1828 suggests a difference between

Applicant (1856)
A diligent student. “This word,” says Mr. Pickering, in his Vocabulary, “has been
much used at our colleges. The English have the verb to apply, but the noun
applicant, in this sense, does not appear to be in use among them. The only
Dictionary in which I have found it with this meaning is Entick’s, in which it is
given under the word applier. Mr. Todd has the term applicant, but it is only in
the sense of ‘he who applies for anything.’ An American reviewer, in his remarks
on Mr. Webster’s Dictionary, takes notice of the word, observing, that it ‘is a
mean word’; and then adds, that Mr. Webster has not explained it in the most
common sense, a hard student.’ —Monthly Anthology, Vol. VII. p. 263. A
correspondent observes: ‘The utmost that can be said of this word among the
English is, that perhaps it is occasionally used in conversation; at least, to signify
one who asks (or applies) for something.’” At present the word applicant is never
used in the sense of a diligent student, the common signification being that given
by Mr. Webster, “One who applies; one who makes request; a petitioner.”

Auction (1856)
At Harvard College, it was until within a few years customary for the members of
the Senior Class, previously to leaving college, to bring together in some
convenient room all the books, furniture, and movables of any kind which they
wished to dispose of, and put them up at public auction. Everything offered was
either sold, or, if no bidders could be obtained, given away.

Back East (1800)

The reverse of out West. With some folks, it had the implication of “back in
civilization”; with others, it had the implication of “back where everything is
messed up.”

Back-lesson (1856)
A lesson which has not been learned or recited; a lesson which has been omitted.
In a moment you may see the yard covered with hurrying groups, some just
released from metaphysics or the blackboard, and some just arisen from their
beds where they have indulged in the luxury of sleeping over, —a luxury,
however, which is sadly diminished by the anticipated necessity of making up

Bald eagle (1688)

Bald is beautiful in America today, thanks to a name chosen three centuries ago
and explained in a 1688 scientific account: “The Second is the Bald Eagle, for the
Body and part of the Neck being of a dark brown, the upper part of the Neck and
Head is covered with a white sort of Down, whereby it looks very bald, whence it
is so named.” In 1782, after six years of debate in Congress and the efforts of
three different committees, the bald eagle was chosen to adorn the Great Seal of
the United States. There it holds the arrows of war in one talon and the olive
branch of peace in the other, with a ribbon in its mouth bearing our motto, E
pluribus unum, “one from many.” Above these emblems shines its unadorned
bald head. Since then the bald eagle has signified the United States on
everything from the presidential flag to the back of the dollar bill. It is still found
in the wild, too, in all parts of the country, feeding on rodents and dead fish.

Ball up (1856)
At Middlebury College, to fail at recitation or examination.

Barbecue (1733)
Many years before the United States was founded, before English speakers
occupied the Southwest, and before tract houses with backyard grills spread
across the suburban plains, Americans had already invented barbecues. The first
barbecues, in fact, were the invention of the Taino Indians of Haiti, who dried
their meat on raised frames of sticks over the fire. Spanish explorers translated
the Taino word as barbacao, and in due course English settlers along the Atlantic
coast had their own barbecues. One summer day in 1733, Benjamin Lynde, a
substantial citizen of Salem, Massachusetts, wrote in his diary, “Fair and hot;
Browne, Barbacue; hack overset.” That is, on this hot day he went to the Brownes
to attend a barbecue, and his carriage (or maybe his horse) tipped over. His
experience may have been upsetting, but it indicates that the social occasion of
the barbecue was established by that time. Large animals would be roasted
whole on frames over hot fires, and neighbors would be invited to dine. In later
centuries, as settlement pressed westward, the barbecue went along with it,
reaching an especially grand size in Texas, where a pit for fuel might be dug ten
feet deep. Present-day barbecue grills are likely to be small and portable, fueled
by charcoal or propane or electricity, and capable of cooking only parts of an
animal at a time, but they still operate out of doors and provide a reason for
inviting the neighbors over.

Bark up the wrong tree (1832)

Americans have coined entire expressions as well as individual words. At first
bark up the wrong tree meant exactly what it said, the bark being that of a
hunting dog pointing at the wrong tree. In Americanisms Old and New (1889),
John S. Farmer explains, “The Western huntsman found that his prey gradually
became more and more wily and cunning in eluding pursuit, and frequently he
and his dogs were at fault, supposing they had ‘treed’ their game when in reality,
especially in the case of opossums and squirrels and such-like animals, it had
escaped by jumping from the boughs of one tree to another.”
But we have found the expression useful even when there are no hunters, trees,
or barking dogs involved. In 1832, we encounter it in James Hall’s Legends of the
West: “It doesn’t take a Philadelphia lawyer to tell that the man who serves the
master one day, and the enemy six, has just six chances out of seven to go to the
devil. You are barking up the wrong tree, Johnson.”
Davy Crockett seems to have been fond of the phrase. In the Sketches and
Eccentricities of Col. David Crockett, of West Tennessee (1833), we find, “I told
him . . . that he reminded me of the meanest thing on God’s earth, an old coon
dog, barking up the wrong tree.” And A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett,
published a year later, contains the sentence, “I began to think I was barking up
the wrong tree again.” The 1836 story of Colonel Crockett in Texas includes the
remark, “Job, little dreaming that he was barking up the wrong tree, shoved along
another bottle.”
To bark up the wrong tree basically means “to follow an incorrect assumption.”
Two other related expressions are also American: be all wet (1792) and fire into
the wrong flock (1848).

Barney (1 of 3 entries) (1810)

At Harvard College, about the year 1810, this word was used to designate a bad
recitation. To barney was to recite badly.

Baum (1856)
At Hamilton College, to fawn upon; to flatter; to court the favor of any one.

Bite the dust (1800)

To be thrown from a horse. Every cowboy gets “throwed.” Range wisdom has it
that “there ain’t no horse that can’t be rode, ain’t no man that can’t be throwed.”
When you do get throwed, you’re said to have DIRTIED YOUR SHIRT, eaten dirt
without stooping, chased a cloud, chewed (or eaten or tasted) gravel, eaten
grass, gone forked end up, gone grass hunting, gone picking daisies, gone up to
fork a cloud, gotten busted, gotten dumped, gotten dusted, gotten flung away,
gotten grassed, gotten piled, gotten spilled, gotten spread-eagled, kissed the
ground, landed on your sombrero, lost your hat and gotten off to look for it, lost
your horse, met your shadow on the ground, picked daisies, sunned your
moccasins, taken a fart-knocker, taken a squatter’s right, or taken up a

Bite the dust also meant “to hit the dust with your face from any cause,” such as
a blow or a bullet. The climax of a formulaic Western tale comes when the villain
bites the dust. To bite the ground is to get killed.

To bite off more than you can chew is to take on a job you can’t handle; from the
notion of biting off a bigger piece of plug tobacco than your mouth can deal with.

Bleach (1800)
At Harvard College, he was formerly said to bleach who preferred to be spiritually
rather than bodily present at morning prayers.

Blood (1 of 4 entries) (1804)

A hot spark; a man of spirit; a rake. A word long in use among collegians and by
writers who described them.

Blood (2 of 4 entries) (1856)

At some of the Western colleges this word signifies excellent; as, a blood
recitation. A student who recites well is said to make a blood.

Bloody (1856)
Formerly a college term for daring, rowdy, impudent.

Blow (1 of 2 entries) (1827)

A merry frolic with drinking; a spree. A person intoxicated is said to be blown, and
Mr. Halliwell, in his Dict. Arch. and Prov. Words, has blowboll, a drunkard.
This word was formerly used by students to designate their frolics and social
gatherings; at present, it is not much heard, being supplanted by the more
common words spree, tight, &c.

Blue (1848)
In several American colleges, a student who is very strict in observing the laws,
and conscientious in performing his duties, is styled a blue. “Our real delvers,
midnight students,” says a correspondent from Williams College, “are called
Blue-light (1856)
At the University of Vermont this term is used, writes a correspondent, to
designate “a boy who sneaks about college, and reports to the Faculty the short-
comings of his fellow-students. A blue-light is occasionally found watching the
door of a room where a party of jolly ones are roasting a turkey (which in justice
belongs to the nearest farm-house), that he may go to the Faculty with the story,
and tell them who the boys are.”

Bluejeans (1855)
The life of an ordinary citizen at the time of the American Revolution could
involve extraordinary events – hunting and farming in the wilderness, whaling,
fighting in the war, and in one case, being captured by the British and held in
England for forty-eight years, then returning a forgotten hero. This last was the
case for one Israel Potter, whose partly imagined biography was written in 1855
by Herman Melville, who makes this remark towards the end of the book: “For a
time back, across the otherwise blue-jean career of Israel, Paul Jones flits and re-
flits like a crimson thread. One more brief intermingling of it, and to the plain old
homespun we return.”
Melville’s statement is evidence that bluejeans were recognized in those days as
the everyday wear of everyday Americans. More evidence comes from the career
of James Douglass Williams, governor of Indiana (1876-80). He was known as
“Blue Jeans” Williams because he wore bluejeans to cultivate the rural vote.
More Americans now wear jeans (not always blue) on more occasions; women
and men, rich and poor, in college classrooms and at parties, and to night clubs
as well as to work. Designer jeans (1966) were a successful twentieth-century
attempt to make jeans fashionable as well as down to earth, thus raising their
humble prices.
Jeans themselves are not an American invention. The word jean dates at least
from the 1560s, referring to cloth of Genoa, Italy, and by the 1840s in England we
read of workers in stables wearing jeans. But the association of bluejeans with
cowboys and miners, and the success of the San Francisco manufacturer Levi
Strauss & Co., has given bluejeans and jeans an American accent known around
the world.

Bodacious (1840)
large, exciting. Coined in the 1840’s, repopularized by truckers during the CB
craze of the 1970’s and then appropriated by youth in the 1980s

Bogs (1800)
Among English Cantabs, a privy. —Gradus ad Cantab
Bogus (1797)
Around the time we were getting used to being a new nation, we Americans
contributed something bogus to the English language. At first, apparently, it was
only money. A glossary defining bogus as a “spurious coin” was published in
1798, indicating that the word must have been coined at least as early as 1797.
Its origins are obscure, but one guess that is as good as any is that it is from
boko, meaning “deceit” or “fake” in the Hausa language of west central Africa.
The word then would have been brought over by Africans sold into slavery here.
Once it was introduced into our language, the word bogus circulated widely, and
it began to count for more than coins. A machine to make bogus coins was also
called a bogus, at least in Painesville, Ohio, in 1827. By 1848 bogus could be
counterfeit paper money too. In fact, by midcentury, bogus could be anything
fake, as it is nowadays. For example, we read of a bogus legislature in 1852,
bogus lottery tickets in 1856, bogus life insurance companies in 1859, bogus
jewelry in 1860, and a bogus piano tuner in 1887. Since the late nineteenth
century it has also meant something that is simply no good, a use of bogus that
persists in slang of the present day.

Bohn (1855)
A translation; a pony. The volumes of Bohn’s Classical Library are in such general
use among undergraduates in American colleges, that Bohn has come to be a
common name for a translation.

Bolt (1 of 2 entries) (1854)

An omission of a recitation or lecture. A correspondent from Union College gives
the following account of it: —“In West College, where the Sophomores and
Freshmen congregate, when there was a famous orator expected, or any unusual
spectacle to be witnessed in the city, we would call a ‘class meeting,’ to consider
upon the propriety of asking Professor —for a bolt. We had our chairman, and the
subject being debated, was generally decided in favor of the remission. A
committee of good steady fellows were selected, who forthwith waited upon the
Professor, and, after urging the matter, commonly returned with the welcome
assurance that we could have a bolt from the next recitation.

Bolt (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

At Union College, to be absent from a recitation, on the conditions related under
the noun BOLT. Followed by from.

Bootlick (1849)
To fawn upon; to court favor.

Bootlicker (1848)
A student who seeks or gains favor from a teacher by flattery or officious
civilities; one who curries favor. A correspondent from Union College writes: “As
you watch the students more closely, you will perhaps find some of them
particularly officious towards your teacher, and very apt to linger after recitation
to get a clearer knowledge of some passage. They are Bootlicks, and that is
known as Bootlicking; a reproach, I am sorry to say, too indiscriminately

Bore (1854)
A tiresome person or unwelcome visitor, who makes himself obnoxious by his
disagreeable manners, or by a repetition of visits. —Bartlett. A person or thing
that wearies by iteration. —Webster. Although the use of this word is very
general, yet it is so peculiarly applicable to the many annoyances to which a
collegian is subjected, that it has come by adoption to be, to a certain extent, a
student term. One writer classes under this title “text-books generally; the
Professor who marks slight mistakes; the familiar young man who calls
continually, and when he finds the door fastened demonstrates his verdant
curiosity by revealing an inquisitive countenance through the ventilator.” —
Sophomore Independent, Union College, Nov. 1854.

Boss (1870)
great. A quintessential word in the mid 1960’s that first enjoyed popularity in the

Brick (1856)
A gay, wild thoughtless fellow, but not so hard as the word itself might seem to

Brodie (1800)
a mistake or failure. An allusion to Steve Brodie, whose public claim to have
survived a jump from the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886 was universally disbelieved.
Buffalo chip (1800)
The dried pie of buffalo manure, called by the French BOIS DE VACHE, literally
“wood of the cow.” It was the universal firewood of the treeless plains. Says Jo
Mora in Trail Dust and Saddle Leather, “It made a good hot fire in dry weather,
though when too wet it did not burn so readily, all of which scarcely added to the
sweet temper or the efficiency of the cook.” It’s also called euphemistically
babcock coal, prairie chip, prairie coal, prairie fuel, prairie pancake, and prairie

Bull (1800)
At Dartmouth College, to recite badly; to make a poor recitation. From the
substantive bull, a blunder or contradiction, or from the use of the word as a
prefix, signifying large, lubberly, blundering.
Burlington (1800)
At Middlebury College, a water-closet; privy. So called on account of the good-
natured rivalry between that institution and the University of Vermont at

Burst (1800)
To fail in reciting; to make a bad recitation. This word is used in some of the
Southern colleges.

Burt (1800)
At Union College, a privy is called the Burt, from a person of that name, who
many years ago was employed as the architect and builder of the latrinæ of that
Busy (1856)
An answer often given by a student, when he does not wish to see visitors.

Cahoole (1856)
At the University of North Carolina, this word in its application is almost universal,
but generally signifies to cajole, to wheedle, to deceive, to procure.
Cahoots (1800)
To be partners with a fellow was to be in cahoots with him or to be thrown in with
him. A verb form existed that appears to have disappeared—to cahoot with him.
Perhaps from the French cahute, meaning cabin or hut.

Canoe (1608)
Long before any English-speaking person paddled one in American waters, canoe
was an English word for an American Indian invention. If by “discover” we mean
“tell the Europeans,” then Columbus discovered the canoe while he was busy
discovering America. He observed natives of the West Indies traveling across the
water in boats made of a single large tree, hollowed out with a sharp stone, and
propelled with paddles. Columbus called the vessel by the name the Cariban
Indians of Haiti gave it: canoa. The author of a 1555 book that explained the
canoa for English readers said it is “very longe and narowe,” with room for as
many as forty paddlers.
In 1608, shortly after the founding of the first English colony in Virginia, Captain
John Smith reported that the settlers were following the Indian example and
getting around in “canowes.” So it happened also on later frontiers as European
settlers pressed westward. These canoes were not all of the hollow-log variety,
which was especially suited for uninterrupted travel on water. Within the North
American continent, where frequent portages were necessary between river and
lakes, the lightweight birch-bark canoe was preferred. And to navigate the
birchless plains farther west, canoes were made of buffalo hide.
In recent times, Americans have tinkered with the materials of canoes, making
them of wood, fiberglass, plastic, and aluminum. Especially with these new
material, there still is no other human-powered vessel so portable,
maneuverable, speedy, and study for travel in shallow and narrow waters. In all
likelihood, there are far more canoes plying American waters today than there
ever were before Columbus landed.
Chamber (1856)
The apartment of a student at a college or university. This word,
although formerly used in American colleges, has been of late almost entirely
supplanted by the word room, and it is for this reason that it is here noticed.

Chaw (1 of 2 entries) (1856)

A deception or trick.

Chaw (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

To use up.
Yesterday a Junior cracked a joke on me, when all standing round shouted in
great glee, “Chawed! Freshman chawed! Ha! ha! ha! “No, I a’nt chawed!” said I,
“I’m as whole as ever.” But I did n’t understand, when a fellow is used up, he is
said to be chawed; if very much used up, he is to be essentially chawed. —The
Dartmouth, Vol. IV. p. 117.

Chop suey (1840)

A surprising but genuine Americanism and probably a Westernism. Chop suey
(meaning “odds and ends” or “hash” in Cantonese) is reportedly unknown in
China, and Herbert Asbury in The Gangs of New York says it was “invented by an
American dishwasher in a San Francisco restaurant.” It is generally a mixture of
vegetables, bean sprouts, and meat. A chop suey joint, naturally, is a Chinese

Chum (1856)
To occupy a chamber with another.

Chumming (1 of 2 entries) (1856)

Occupying a room with another.

Chumship (1624)
The state of occupying a room in company with another; chumming.

Classmate (1856)
A member of the same class with another.

Coax (1856)
This word was formerly used at Yale College in the same sense as the word fish at
Harvard, viz. to seek or gain the favor of a teacher by flattery.
Cold feet (1894)
At some time between the 1893 first edition and the 1896 second edition of his
novel Maggie, a Girl of the Streets, Stephen Crane added the earliest known
instance of cold feet: “I knew this is the way it would be. They got cold feet.”
The new slang term, referring to the loss of courage or enthusiasm, appears also
in George Ade’s Artie, another novel of 1896: “‘I see. He turned out to be a
boodler [corrupt politician], eh?’ ‘I don’t see no way o’ gettin’ past it. I like Jimmy.
He’s one o’ them boys that never has cold feet and there’s nothin’ too good for a
friend, but by gee, I guess when it comes to doin’ the nice, genteel dip he
belongs with the smoothest of ’em. And he learned it so quick, too. Ooh!’”
By the turn of the century, college students were getting cold feet too. A glossary
of college terms published in 1901 includes this definition from Cornell University
in Ithaca, New York: “‘To get cold-feet in a subject,’ abandon it for weariness.”
In the West in the twentieth century it has also been possible to call a person
cold-footed, as in an example from New Mexico, “you are cold-footed on this
proposition of marriage.” The term was noted by Elsie Warnock in her rhetoric
classes in 1914-17 when she asked them to list twenty disparaging terms used in
everyday speech.
An echo of cold-footed comes from a book with a Texas setting in 1920: “We were
not allowed to cross the cattle on the bridge, so we had to swim for it. Two of my
men stayed with me, and the third, a ‘cold-footer,’ crossed on the bridge.”

Cookie (1703)
You won’t hear cookie in England. But you will in the United States, thanks to our
Dutch forebears. Cookie is a Dutch term meaning “little cake.” It was brought to
the New World by the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam. Though they lost the
colony to the English, who promptly renamed it New York in 1674, the Hollanders
maintained their hearty practices. In 1703, it was reported, certain New York
residents of Dutch ancestry laid out for a funeral “rum, beer, gloves, rings,” one
and a half gross of pipes, and eight hundred “cockies.” Cookies were also a Dutch
treat for New Year’s Day, along with pound cake, wine, and a drink called cherry
bounce (made of cider, whiskey and cherries).
During the 1700s the sweet, flat little cakes became the favorites of New Yorkers
of all backgrounds. In 1786, for example, a New York newspaper complained
about “idle boys, who infest our markets and streets, with baskets of cookies.”
From New York, cookies made themselves at home throughout the country by
means of travelers, recipes, and hungry children. In the late twentieth century,
when a children’s television show wanted to associate a leading character with a
culinary passion, who else could they imagine but a monster who loved cookies?

Cork, calk (1856)

In some of the Southern colleges, this word, with a derived meaning, signifies a
complete stopper. Used in the sense of an entire failure in reciting; an utter
inability to answer an instructor’s interrogatories.

Cowboy (1800)
This most American of terms, at least American in mythology, got its start in
medieval Ireland as the word for boys (literally) who tended cattle. During the
American Revolution it meant, of all things, a Tory. But we know it, properly, as
the best-worn of all the handles for the men of the American West of the
nineteenth century who rode the range and did the hard, down-to-earth jobs
required to raise cows. They’re still doing them.
The best-known of these fellows rode during the heyday of the cowboy, the
twenty or thirty years following the Civil War. He rode, he roped, he branded. He
doctored. He nursed. He trailed or, later, fixed fence. (Building and fixing fences
were the bane of his existence, partly because he had to do them on foot.) On
the Northern Plains, he fed—every winter morning and evening, no exceptions.
Depending on his personality, he smelled the air (and the dust and alkali) and felt
the motion of his mount, and looked about and thanked God for letting him be
where he was; if he was of sour disposition, he cussed his horse, cussed the
country, cussed his employer, and cussed God for sentencing him to…everything
he resented.
Cowboys are hard to generalize about. The cowboy’s main fault, from the modern
point of view, is that he is likely to have narrow horizons: He keeps his books in
the outhouse, and he doesn’t use them there for reading matter. He likes food
from fried chicken to chicken-fried steak and isn’t interested in experimentation.
Coors Light is his choice over any wine, California or French. In the old days, his
musical likes didn’t go beyond fiddles and guitars (pronounced GIH-tars), these
days not beyond country twanging. He’s likely to have prejudices, and if you’re
an Indian, a Mexican or a black, or simply a woman, you may not like some of
them. (Still, there are thousands of cowboys this doesn’t apply to).
This fellow works prodigiously. He takes care of cows as though they were
children, and he doesn’t knock off just because the clock says it’s quitting time.
He can fix almost anything mechanical. He’s decent, and then some. He has a
strong sense of justice and will travel many a mile to set things right.
Most important, you can depend on him. For instance, it’s a most basic Western
courtesy to leave gates as you find them: open if they were open, closed if they
were closed—they’re keeping cows in or out. In The Solace of Open Spaces,
Gretel Elrich tells of a Wyoming cowboy who cut his foot off by accident. On the
way to town for medical help, he stopped his pickup, hobbled painfully to the
gate and opened it, and then got out to close it again after he went through.
Otherwise, he said, “What would they a thunk?”
If he’s on your side, the cowboy will stick. For most of them, the old expression
will do: He’s a good man to ride the river with.
The cowboy has gone by more names than you can count, and “cowboy” wasn’t
one of them at first. The fellow was first a VAQUERO (and that didn’t suggest he
was Hispanic). Later, after the Civil War, the term “cowboy” came into
widespread use. In the Great Basin, though, he was more likely to be a buckaroo,
which also implied somewhat different techniques and gear. He has also gone by
cowpoke (or just poke), cowprod(der), COWPUNCHER (or just puncher), dabster
hand, GUNNYSACKER (to sheepmen), HAND (cowhand or top hand), heel
squatter, leather pounder, RANAHAN (or ranny), saddle slicker, saddle stiff,
saddle warmer, trail hand, WADDY, WRANGLER, and of course you son of a bitch.
If he’s called a cowboy of the Pecos, he’s been alkalied in the rough country
drained by the Pecos River, which even lizards avoid, and is the toughest kind of
rawhide. In the twentieth century, a new distinction became necessary—ranching
cowboy means a working hand, as opposed to a rodeo cowboy, a performer.
The word cowboy suggests a person who puts action ahead of thought: A speeder
is said to be cowboying around, and Ronald Reagan was called the cowboy
president. The word is often used as a verb, too, as in “I been cowboying over on
the Picketwire,” or in cowboy up, to prove yourself as a hand. It is also the basis
of combinations like cowboy hat (some Westerners prefer stockman’s hat),
COWBOY BOOT, cowboy song, cowboy movie, and so on. A horse that’s cowboy
broke is a horse nobody but a real hand could ride, the opposite of lady-broke.

Cram (1 of 2 entries) (1850)

To prepare a student to pass an examination; to study in view of examination; to
study in view of examination. In the latter sense used in American colleges.
Cram (2 of 2 entries) (1856)
All miscellaneous information about Ancient History, Geography, Antiquities, Law,
&c.; all classical matter not included under the heads of TRANSLATION and
COMPOSITION, which can be learned by CRAMMING.

Cram book (1856)

A book in which are laid down such topics as constitute an examination, together
with the requisite answers to the questions proposed on that occasion.

Cram man (1856)

One who is cramming for an examination.

Cram paper (1856)

A paper in which are inserted such questions as are generally asked at an

Cramming (1856)
A cant term, in the British universities, for the act of preparing a student to pass
an examination, by going over the topics with him beforehand, and furnishing
him with the requisite answers.—Webster.
The author of the Collegian’s Guide, speaking of examinations, says: “First, we
must observe that all examinations imply the existence of examiners, and
examiners, like other mortal beings, lie open to the frauds of designing men,
through uniformity and sameness of their proceedings. This uniformity inventive
men have analyzed and reduced to a system, founding thereon a certain science,
and corresponding art, called Cramming.” —p. 229.

Cranberry (1647)
The Indians would have referred to the berries as sassamanesh if they were
served at the first thanksgiving in 1621. The English would have known them as
marsh-whorts, fen-whorts, fen-berries, marsh-berries, or moss-berries. But
strangely enough, in 1647 we find a sermon by Massachusetts minister John Eliot,
“Apostle to the Indians,” asking this about the wonders of nature: “Why are
Strawberries sweet and Cranberries sowre?”
We will leave Eliot’s question to the theologians and botanists and instead pursue
the solution to a linguistic mystery: Why did the English-speaking residents of
New England adopt this name cranberry?
Perhaps the Dutch of New Amsterdam taught them to savor it. Cranberry is
related to German kranbere and Low German or Dutch kronbere or kranebere. In
those languages, as in English, the word means “crane-berry,” referring to the
bird known as the crane. What does the crane have to do with the berry? Some
say the stem on which the berry grows has the shape of a crane; others say the
European bogs harbored cranes whose diet included those crane-berries.
Then as now, cranberries were a favored food. John Josselyn, visiting from
England in 1663, reported that “The Indians and English use them much, boyling
them with Sugar for Sauce to eat with their Meat, and it is a delicate sauce.”
The term cranberry sauce shows up a century later in the diary of John Adams in
the entry for April 8, 1767. After mentioning that he “found a fine Wild Goose on
the Spit and Cramberries stewing in the Skillet for Dinner” at a certain Dr. Tuft’s,
he adds that Tufts invited him “to dine upon wild Goose and Cramberry Sause.”
Indians also taught the colonists to make pemmican. This combination of dried
meat, melted animal fat, and cranberries was a nutritious food with a long shelf
Credit card (1888)
Long before the first credit cards were issued in California in the 1950s, an
American visionary of the nineteenth century imagined them. Not only that; he
envisioned a cashless society, using credit cards for purchases, would exist at the
end of the twentieth century. Falling asleep in 1887, the narrator of Edward
Bellamy’s novel Looking Backward, published in 1888, wakes in the year 2000 to
an America whose problems have been solved by getting rid of buying and
selling. Instead, “A credit corresponding to his share of the annual product of the
nation is given to every citizen on the public books at the beginning of each year,
and a credit card issued him with which he procures at the public storehouses,
found in every community, whatever he desires whenever he desires it.” It works
for travel abroad too: “An American in Berlin [for example] takes his credit card to
the local office of the international council, and receives in exchange for the
whole part of it a German credit card, the amount being charged against the
United States in favor of Germany on the international account.”
Bellamy’s credit card is actually what we nowadays would call a debit card, one
that draws from an established account. The plastic credit card first issued by
California’s Bank of America in 1956 was more radical. It did not require
prepayment but offered the bank’s own credit, instantly, for purchases at a great
variety of participating businesses. With credit cards, businesses could offer
customers the convenience of credit while the bank took the risk (and a
percentage of the price).
We have a long way to go before reaching Bellamy’s vision of a cashless society,
and we are farther than ever from his vision of a society without banks, retailers,
and advertising, but the end of the twentieth century has put credit cards in
nearly everyone’s hands, with accounts immediately accessible by computer
almost anywhere in the world.

Crib (1 of 2 entries) (1856)

Probably a translation; a pony.

Curl (1856)
In the University of Virginia, to make a perfect recitation; to overwhelm a
Professor with student learning.
Cuss (1815)
By the early nineteenth century, we knew how to cuss. In an 1815 book called A
Yankee in England, we find a definition: “Cuss, curse.”
As the definition indicates, cuss is nothing more than a variation of the spelling
and pronunciation of curse. To cuss, the verb, comes from the identical noun
cuss, a form that is attested as early as 1775 in the Narragansett Historical
Register: “A man that . . . was noted for a damn cuss.” Like BUST (1764) from
burst, it reflects the r-dropping pronunciation of New England and the South, as
heard by others who pronounced the r. But somehow the cussing was so
emphatic it took on a life of its own.
Or perhaps it was a euphemism, available to those who did not want to utter a
word that was as shocking as curse. Evidence for this is in Mark Twain’s use of the
phrase cuss word in his 1872 book Roughing It: “He didn’t give a continental for
anybody. Beg your pardon, friend, for coming so near saying a cuss-word.”
For whatever reason, Twain found the word congenial. He used it in Life on the
Mississippi (1883): “He got mad and jumped up and begun to cuss the crowd, and
said he could lam any thief in the lot.” And in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
(1884): “He . . . cussed me for putting on frills and trying to be better than him.”
Cussing continues nowadays. It can be therapy, as in a 1976 article “Failure Is a
Word I Don’t Accept” from the Harvard Business Review: “How do you deal with
anger? If I’m mad at somebody, I just go in a room, close the door, and cuss him
or her out where nobody can hear me. Sometimes I write a letter that I don’t
mail. I’ve done a lot of that.”

Cut (1 of 2 entries) (1794)

To be absent from; to neglect. Thus, a person is said to “cut prayers,” to “cut
lecture,” &c. Also, to “cut Greek” or “Latin;” i.e. to be absent from the Greek or
Latin recitation.

Cut (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

An omission of a recitation. This phrase is frequently heard: “We had a cut to-day
in Greek,” i.e. no recitation in Greek. Again, “Prof. D—-gave us a cut,” i.e. he had
no recitation.

Dead (1 of 2 entries) (1835)

A complete failure; a declaration that one is not prepared to recite.

Dead (2 of 2 entries) (1848)

To be unable to recite; to be ignorant of the lesson; to declare one’s self
unprepared to recite.

Dead-set (1856)
The same as a DEAD, which see.
Now’s the day an I now’s the hour;
See approach Old Sike’s power;
See the front of Logic lower;
Screws, dead-sets, and fines.
—Rebelliad, p. 52.
Grose has this word in his Slang Dictionary, and defines it “a concerted scheme
to defraud a person by gaming.” “This phrase,” says Bartlett, in his Dictionary of
Americanisms, “seems to be taken from the lifeless attitude of a pointer in
marking his game.” “The lifeless attitude” seems to be the only point of
resemblance between the above definitions, and the appearance of one who is
taking a dead set. The word has of late years been displaced by the more general
use of the word dead, with the same meaning. The phrase to be at a dead-set,
implying a fixed state or condition which precludes further progress, is in general

Deadhead (1841)
Long before Jerry Garcia was even born, there were deadheads in America. We
read of them as far back as 1841, as reported by Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle
of the Turf in New York City: “The house on Tuesday was filled as far as $300
could fill, barring the ‘dead heads.’” Two years later, with regard to a less
successful performance, the Knickerbocker, also of New York City, noted “tickets
numbered as high as twelve hundred, and not fifty persons in the room? —and
half of those ‘dead heads.’” Who were these dead heads who lived more than a
century before the Grateful Dead played their first note? They were free loaders—
whose heads did not count in the receipts.
No one knows who first invented the word. But it met an evident need for an
expression that was both descriptive and sarcastic, to be used by proprietors who
got no income from deadheads and by paying guests envious of those who got in
free. And soon deadheads were spoken of everywhere, not just in the theaters of
New York City. In an 1848 glossary of American words, John Russell Bartlett
explained: “Persons who drink at a bar, ride in an omnibus or railroad car, travel
in steamboats, or visit the theatre, without charge, are called dead heads. These
consist of the engineers, conductors, and laborers on railroads; the keepers of
hotels; the editors of newspapers, etc.”
The meaning of deadhead as “one who gets something for nothing” was
extended before long to include “one who is good for nothing, an idler, a shiftless
person.” Or, to use another American term of the time, a deadbeat (1863). In the
later nineteenth century, deadhead took on the technical meaning of “a trip by
train, truck, or other vehicle without cargo or passengers.”
So in the 1970s, when deadhead with its connotations of freeloading, idling, and
taking empty trips met the new sense of head meaning “drug user,” as in pot
head, it was not so surprising that fans of the Grateful Dead would identify
themselves as Dead Heads as they followed the rock band from concert to
concert around the country from the early 1970s until Garcia’s death in 1995.
Decent (1856)
Tolerable; pretty good.

Dig (1 of 3 entries) (1827)

To study hard; to spend much time in studying.

Dig (2 of 3entries) (1849)

A diligent student; one who learns his lessons by hard and long-continued

Digging (1835)
The act of studying hard; diligent application.

Diked (1856)
At the University of Virginia, one who is dressed with more than ordinary
elegance is said to be diked out. Probably corrupted from the word decked, or the
nearly obsolete dighted.

Dingus (1870)
A thingamajig; something you can’t think of the name of. This borrowing from
Dutch seems first to have appeared in the West in the 1870s.

Disperse (1849)
A favorite word with tutors and proctors; used when speaking to a number of
students and unlawfully collected.

Dodge (1850)
A trick; an artifice or stratagem for the purpose of deception. Used often with
come; as, “to come a dodge over him.”

Donkey (1856)
At Washington College, Penn., students of a religious character are vulgarly called

Dude (1 of 4 entries) (1877)

As the frontier of the Wild West began to be tamed, a certain kind of young
American male turned his attention eastward, to the frontier of the civilized world
of fashion. Instead of the somber black worn by his forefathers, he chose checks
and bright colors. Instead of full-cut outer garments, he wore skin-tight hip-
hugging pants, snug shirts and short jackets. His collar was tall, stiff and
starched. His conversation was . . . well, consider this from an article on “The
American ‘Dude’” in 1885: “He may talk with a lisp, but when he converses on his
favorite topic – woman – his conversation is peculiarly juicy. He is coldly doubtful
and suspicious and ignorant of everything which the solid portion of the
community regards as of great importance, but of actresses, wine and horses he
can discourse feelingly.” As for his costume, “his nether integuments fit like knit
Dude is recorded as early as 1877 in the words of those who were not impressed.
“Don’t send me any more [drawings of] women or any more dudes,” grumbled
the young Frederic Remington at school in 1877, preparing for his career as a
Western artist. “Send me Indians, cowboys, villains or toughs.” In 1879 a book
titled Fighting Indians says that the garrison of Fort Snelling, Minnesota, “was at
that time composed of dude soldiers, pets of dress parade officers.” In the next
century, however, westerners got theirs back from dudes at dude ranches (1921).
Early in 1883 the dude became the rage of New York City, starting with a poem in
the newspaper The World on “The True Origin and History of ‘The Dude.’” That
word was said to be a great improvement on masher (1875) by another writer,
who added that “The discovery or invention of Dood should be hailed with joyous
The African-American use of dude as a synonym for “man” seems to be a
descendant of this nineteenth-century character. From that usage it entered
general American conversation, especially among young people, meaning “man”
in the 1960s and as a general exclamation in the 1980s.

Electioneering (1856)
In many colleges in the United States, where there are rival societies, it is
customary, on the admission of a student to college, for the partisans of the
different societies to wait upon him, and endeavor to secure him as a member.
An account of this Society Electioneering, as it is called, is given in Sketches of
Yale College, at page 162. Society electioneering has mostly gone by.
— Williams Quarterly, Vol. II. p.285.

Facilities (1856)
The means by which the performance of anything is rendered easy.—Webster.
Among students, a general name for what are technically called ponies or

Fag (1 of 3 entries) (1795)

Scotch, faik, to fail, to languish. Ancient Swedish, wik-a, cedere. To drudge; to
labor to weariness; to become weary.
2. To study hard; to persevere in study.

Fag (2 of 3 entries) (1856)

A laborious drudge; a drudge for another. In colleges and schools, this term is
applied to a boy of a lower form who is forced to do menial services for another
boy of a higher form or class.

Fag (3 of 3 entries) (1856)

Time spent in, or period of, studying.

Fair lick (1856)

In the game of football, when the ball is fairly caught or kicked beyond the
bounds, the cry usually heard, is Fair lick! Fair lick!

Fast (1856)
An epithet of who is showy in dress, expensive or apparently so in his mode of
living, and inclined to spree. Formerly used exclusively among students; now of
more general application.

Ferg (1856)
To lose the heat of excitement or passion; to become less angry, ardent; to cool.
A correspondent from the University of Vermont, where this word is used, says:
“If a man gets angry, we ‘let him ferg,’ and he feels better.”

Fess (1856)
Probably abbreviated for CONFESS. In some of the Southern Colleges, to fail in
reciting; to silently request the teacher not to put farther queries. This word is in
use among the cadets at West Point, with the same meaning.

Fish, fisher (1856)

One who attempts to ingratiate himself with his instructor, thereby to obtain
favor or advantage; one who curries favor.

Fishing (1795)
The act performed by a fisher. The full force of this word is set forth in a letter
from Dr. Popkin, a Professor at Harvard College, to his brother William, dated
Boston, October 17th, 1800.

Fizzle (1847)
To fail in reciting; to recite badly. A correspondent from Williams College says:
“Flunk is the common word when some unfortunate man makes an utter failure in
recitation. He fizzles when he stumbles through at last.” Another from Union
writes: “If you have been lazy, you will probably fizzle.” A writer in the Yale
Literary Magazine thus humorously defines this word: “Fizzle. To rise with modest
reluctance, to hesitate often, to decline finally; generally, to misunderstand the
question.” –Vol. XIV. p. 144.

Fizzling (1854)
Reciting badly; the act of making a poor recitation.

Flam (1856)
At the University of Vermont, in student phrase, to flam is to be attentive, at any
time, to any lady or company of ladies. E.g. “He spends half his time flamming,”
i.e. in the society of the other sex.

Flash-in-the-pan (1856)
A student is said to make a flash-in-the-pan when he commences to recite
brilliantly, and suddenly fails; the latter part of such a recitation is a FIZZLE. The
metaphor is borrowed from a gun, which, after being primed, loaded, and ready
to be discharged, flashes in the pan.

.Floor (1854)
Among collegians, to answer such questions as may be propounded concerning a
given subject
Flop (1856)
A correspondent from the University of Vermont writes: “Any ‘cute’ performance
by which a man is sold [deceived] is a good flop, and, by a phrase borrowed from
the ball ground, is ‘rightly played.’ The discomfited individual declares that they
‘are all on a side,’ and gives up, or ‘rolls over’ by giving his opponent ‘gowdy.’” “A
man writes cards during examination to ‘feeze the profs’; said cards are
‘gumming cards,’ and he flops the examination if he gets a good mark by the
means.” One usually flops his marks by feigning sickness.

Flummux (1 of 2 entries) (1856)

Any failure is called a flummux. In some colleges the word is particularly applied
to a poor recitation. At Williams College, a failure on the play-ground is called a

Flummux (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

To fail; to recite badly. Mr. Bartlett, in his Dictionary of Americanisms, has the
word flummix, to be overcome; to be frightened; to give way to.
Flunk (1 of 2 entries) (1846)
This word is used in some American colleges to denote a complete failure in

Flunk (2 of 2 entries) (1823)

To make complete failure when called on to recite. A writer in the Yale Literary
Magazine defines it, “to decline peremptorily, and then to whisper, ‘I had it all,
except that confounded little place.’” –Vol. XIV. p. 144.

Fly (1 of 2 entries) (1870)

attractive, stylish. Although a decisive hip-hop word, coined in the 1870’s.

Fork on (1856)
At Hamilton College, to fork on, to appropriate to one’s self.
Frontier (1676)
If there is a single word that shaped the American experience, it is frontier. So, at
least, it was argued at the turn of the last century, when the frontier as we had
known it for nearly three hundred years came to an end. On that occasion,
historian Frederick Jackson Turner said, “The peculiarity of American institutions
is, the fact that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of
an expanding people – to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning
a wilderness, and in developing, at each area of this progress, out of the primitive
economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life.”
Frontier was not a new word to the English-speaking settlers of the Atlantic
colonies, but they applied it in a new way. The beginnings can be seen in a 1676
account of “Calling downe our Forces from the defence of the Frontiers, and most
weake Exposed Places.” As Turner wrote two centuries later, “The American
frontier is sharply distinguished from the European frontier – a fortified boundary
line running through dense populations. The most significant thing about the
American frontier is, that it lies at the hither edge of free land.” American Indians,
with un-European ideas about nations and property, did not erect barricades to
the flow of settlers west. So the settlers thought of the frontier not as a marked
border but as a place where civilization dwindled away and wilderness began.
All this came to an end when the country was settled from coast to coast. What
would Americans do without the frontier? Turner wondered. We didn’t. We kept
right on, preserving the frontier by extending the meaning of the word. We
invented “new frontiers,” in space or science or medicine or politics, the most
famous being the new frontier adopted as a theme of John Kennedy’s presidential
campaign in 1960: “We stand today on the edge of a new frontier, . . . a frontier
of unknown opportunities and paths, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. . .
. The new frontier . . . is not a set of promises, it is a set of challenges. It sums up
not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.”

Funk (1850)
Disgust; weariness; fright. A sensation sometimes experienced by students in
view of an examination.

Gas (1856)
To impose upon another by a consequential address, or by detailing improbable
stories or using “great swelling words”; to deceive; to cheat.

Gonus (1856)
A stupid fellow.
He was a gonus; perhaps, though, you don’t know what gonus means. One day I
heard a Senior call a fellow a gonus. “A what?” said “A great gonus,” repeated
he. “Gonus,” echoed I, “what’s that mean?” “O,” said he, “you’re a Freshman
and don’t understand.” A stupid fellow, a dolt, a boot-jack, an ignoramus, is
called here a gonus. “All Freshman,” continued he gravely, “are gonuses.” —The
Dartmouth, Vol. IV. p. 116. If the disquisitionist should ever reform his habits, and
his really brilliant talents to some good account, then future gonuses will swear
by his name, and quote him in their daily maledictions of the appointment
systems.—Amherst Indicator, Vol. I. p. 76.

Good Fellow (1856)

At the University of Vermont, this term is used with a signification directly
opposite to that which it usually has. It there designates a soft-brained boy; one
who is lacking in intellect, or, as a correspondent observes, “an epithetical fool.”

Gorm (1856)
From gormandize. At Hamilton College, to eat voraciously.

Got (1856)
In Princeton College, when a student or any one else has been cheated or taken
in, it is customary to say, he was got.

Grass roots (1876)

Americans have been on the cutting edge of business and politics in the
twentieth century. We were the first to get down not only to brass tacks (1897)
but also to grass roots. The latter we originally talked about in regard to mining.
An 1876 book about the Black Hills says that “gold is found almost everywhere,
in the bars, in the gravel and sand of the beds, even in the ‘grass roots,’” that is,
the soil just below the surface. But by the turn of the century we thought of grass
roots as more than just a place to dig. Beneath the visible blades of grass,
keeping the grass alive and making it grow, are the simple roots. Getting down to
grass roots meant looking at the “underlying principles of basic facts of a
matter,” in the words of Charles Earle Funk, the lexicographer, who remembered
the phrase from his Ohio boyhood in the late 1800s. It was in the grass roots
where you could truly understand a situation and effectively respond to it.
Politicians often presented themselves as getting down to grass roots. They also
talked about themselves, and the measures they favored, having support from
the grass roots, that is, from their constituents – ordinary people, the salt of the
earth. Grass roots lobbying takes the form of letters, phone calls, and visits from
these constituents.
Politicians occasionally being unscrupulous, it has sometimes chanced that an
artificial grass roots movement has been planned and put into action by the very
politician or interest group that it seems to spontaneously support. In the 1990s,
fake grass roots were labeled by their opponents with the trademarked name for
artificial and rootless grass, AstroTurf.

Grind (1850)
An exaction; an oppressive action. Students speak of a very long lesson which
they are required to learn, or of anything which it is very unpleasant or difficult to
perform, as a grind. This meaning is derived from the verb to grind, in the sense
of to harass, to afflict; as to grind the faces of the poor.
Grinding (1852)
Hard study; diligent application.

Grub (1 of 4 entries) (1856)

A hard student. Used at Williams College, and synonymous with DIG at other
colleges. A correspondent says, writing from Williams: “Our real delvers, midnight
students, are familiarly called Grubs. This is a very expressive name.”

Grub (2 of 4 entries) (1856)

To study hard; to be what is denominated a grub, or hard student. “The primary
sense,” says Dr. Webster, “is probably to rub, to rake, scrape or scratch, as wild
animals dig by scratching.”
I can grub out a lesson in Latin or mathematics as well as the best of them. –
Amherst Indicator, Vol. I. p 223.

Gum (1 of 2 entries) (1856)

A trick; a deception. In use at Dartmouth College.
Gum is another word they have here. It means something like chaw. To say, “ It’s
all a gum,” or “a regular chaw,” is the same thing.—The Dartmouth, Vol. IV.

Gum (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

At the University of Vermont, to cheat in recitation by using ponies, interliners,
&c; e.g. “he gummed in geometry.”

Gummation (1832)
A trick; raillery.
Our reception to college ground was by no means the most hospitable,
considering our unacquaintance with the manners of the place, for, as poor,
“Fresh,” we soon found ourselves subject to all manner of sly tricks and
“gummations” from our predecessors, the Sophs.—A Tour through College,
Boston, 1832, p. 13.

Hamburger (1884)
From the city of Hamburg, Germany, in the late 1800s Americans learned the fine
art of grinding or chopping beef into tiny pieces and forming pieces into a patty
for cooking like a steak. At first it was simply called a Hamburg steak. But
frequently there was an –er at the end of Hamburg because that was the way the
Germans would say it; they add –er to the name of a city to indicate something or
someone belonging to it. Thus the kind of sausage used in a hot dog was called a
frankfurter (1894) after the city of Frankfurt am Main, Germany, from which it
came, and thus President Kennedy in 1963 said to the citizens of divided Berlin,
“Ich bin ein Berliner.” (Contrary to legend, his words did not mean “I am a
creampuff,” any more than “I am a New Yorker” would mean “I am an issue of a
well-known weekly magazine.”)
The nutritional value of the hamburger steak was promoted in the early 1900s by
a Dr. Salisbury, from whom it acquired the more elegant name of Salisbury steak.
But the popularity of hamburger really soared when the convenient practice of
putting it in a bun became widespread. This was at first called the hamburger
sandwich, but when it became the usual way of serving ground beef it was simply
called the hamburger, and the bunless version had to be distinguished by terms
like hamburger meat or hamburger patty.
As the hamburger gained in popularity, variations were invented. In the 1930s,
someone who added cheese invented the name cheeseburger. That hybrid ended
the patty’s association with the city of Hamburg. Nowadays the hamburger is one
of America’s favorite fast foods, and plain burger is the usual term for it. A prefix
can be added to call attention to a topping, ingredient, or style. The results have
included names for chiliburgers, frankburgers, pickleburgers, and oliveburgers;
lamburgers, hashburgers, nutburgers and veggieburgers; California burgers, bar-
b-burgers, twinburgers, and circus burgers.

Hang out (1 of 2 entries) (1856)

To treat, to live, to have or possess. Among English Cantabs, a verb of all-work.—
There were but few pensioners who “hung out” servants of their own. –Bristed’s
Five Years in an Eng. Univ., Ed.2d, p. 90.
I had become.....a man who knew and “hung out to” clever and pleasant people,
and introduced agreeable lions to one another.—Ibid., p. 158.
I had gained such a reputation for dinner-giving, that men going to “hang out”
sometimes asked me to compose bills of fare for them.—Ibid., p. 195.

Hang-out (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

An entertainment.I remember the fate from the Fourth of July occurring just
afterwards, which I celebrated by a “hang–out.” Bristed’s Five Years in an Eng.
Univ., Ed. 2d. p. 80.
He had kept me six hours at table, on the occasion of a dinner which he
gave.....as an appendix to and a return for some of my “hangings-out.” Ibid., p.

Hauled up (1856)
In many colleges, one brought up before the Faculty is said to be hauled up.

Haze (1848)
To trouble; to harass; to disturb. This word is used at Harvard College, to express
the treatment which Freshmen sometimes receive from the higher classes, and
especially from the Sophomores. It is used among sailors with the meanings to
urge, to drive, to harass, especially with labor. In his Dictionary of Americanisms,
Mr. Bartlett says, “To haze round, is to go rioting about.” Be ready, in fine, to cut,
to drink, to smoke, to swear, to haze, to dead, to spree,—in one word, to be a
Sophomore.—Oration before H.L. of I. O. of O.F., 1848, p. 11. To him no orchard is
unknown,—no grape-vine unappraised,—No farmer’s hen-roost yet unrobbed, —
no Freshman yet unhazed! - Poem before Y.H., 1849, p. 9. ’Tis the Sophomores
rushing the Freshman to haze. - Poem before Iadma, 1850, p. 22. Never again
Leave unbolted your door when to rest you retire,
And, unhazed and unmartyred, you proudly may scorn
Those foes to all Freshman who ’gainst thee conspire. - Ibid., p.23. Freshman
have got quietly settled down to work, Sophs have given up their hazing.—
Williams Quarterly, Vol. II. p. 285. We are glad to be able to record, that the
absurd and barbarous custom of hazing, which has long prevailed in College, is,
to a great degree, discontinued. —Harv. Mag., Vol. I. p. 413. The various
means which are made use of in hazing the Freshmen are enumerated in part
below. In the first passage, a Sophomore speaks in soliloquy.
I am a man,
Have human feelings, though mistaken Fresh
Affirmed I was a savage or a brute,
When I did dash cold water in their necks,
Discharged green squashes through their window-panes,
And stript their beds of soft, luxurious sheets,
Placing instead harsh briers and rough sticks,
So that their sluggish bodies might not sleep,
Unroused by morning bell; or when perforce,
From leaden syringe, engine of fierce might,
I drave black ink upon their ruffle shirts,
Or drenched with showers of melancholy hue,
The new-fledged dickery peering o’er the stock,
Fit emblem of a young ambitious mind! - Harvardiana, Vol. III. p. 254.
A Freshman writes thus on the subject:— The Sophs did nothing all the first
fortnight but torment the Fresh, as they call us. They would come to our rooms
with masks on, and frighten us dreadfully; and sometimes squirt water through
our keyholes, or throw a whole pailful on to one of us from the upper windows. —
Harvardiana, Vol. III. p. 76.

Heads out (1856)

At Princeton College, the cry when anything occurs in the Campus. Used, also, to
give the alarm when a professor or tutor is about to interrupt a spree.

Hello (1885)
Alexander Graham Bell’s much-talked-about invention gave us not only the new
word telephone (1876) but also the greeting hello. To be sure, something like
hello had been with us for a long time as a shout that the English had learned
from the French in the Middle Ages. Ho là! they would say. It meant both “stop”
and “pay attention,” or in the words of an early translator, “hoe there, enough,
soft soft, no more of that; also, heare you me, or come hither.” In various English
shouts and reshouts over the centuries, this became holla (1523), hollo, hollow
(1542), and hillo, hilloa (1602). For long-distance shouts the ending was
lengthened to –oo, leading to halloo (1568) and hulloo (1707). By the nineteenth
century the variants included hallo, halloa (1840) and hullo, hulloa (1857).
It is not surprising that a call to stop and pay attention should become associated
with the first telephones. But with all the possible ways of saying it, why should
telephones call for a different pronunciation, that of the present-day hello?
Because it is rude to shout, and hello discourages shouting. The short e keeps the
mouth more closed than o or a, and –lo makes a quieter ending than –loo.
Telephones badly needed this civilizing because the first ones required people to
shout and the first telephone exchanges were manned by boys who
enthusiastically shouted right back. “Nothing could be done with them. They
were immune to all schemes of discipline,” noted one author. So within a few
years, in the mid 1880s, “In place of the noisy and obstreperous boy came the
docile, soft-voiced girl” – often called a hello girl in recognition of her civilized
calling word. In 1889, Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
included this tribute: “The humblest hello-girl along ten thousand miles of wire
could teach gentleness, patience, modesty, manners, to the highest duchess in
Arthur’s land.”
The telephone hello soon became a face-to-face greeting too. It could take the
place of How are you? and How do you do?, although it did not replace the
informal hi and howdy derived from those expressions. At the end of the
twentieth century, there was also a hello? that expressed surprise and a Hello-o-o
with an exaggerated up and down of the voice that implied, Wake up! What do
you think you’re doing?

High-go (1844)
A merry frolic, usually with drinking.

Hiss (1856)
To condemn by hissing. This is a favorite method, especially among students, of
expressing their disapprobation of any person or measure.

Hooch (1890)
any alcoholic beverage. From the 1890’s, but most popular in the 1920’s.

Hot dog (1895)

It was an old joke, with some truth to it: meat for sausages was said to come
from dogs. In 1836 a New York newspaper declared, “Sausages have fallen in
price one half, in New York, since the dog killers have commenced operations.”
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, clever students at Yale University in
New Haven, Connecticut, began referring to the sausages themselves as dogs. A
lunch wagon that operated there at night was called “The Kennel Club” because
dogs were its specialty. A poem about it appeared in the Yale Record for October
5, 1895:


“’Tis dogs’ delight to bark and bite,”
Thus does the adage run.
But I delight to bite the dog
When placed inside a bun.

It remained only for the Yale wits to add hot. They did this in the October 19 issue
of the Record, in a tall tale about abducting the “dog wagon.” The proprietor
supposedly woke up in the relocated lunch wagon at chapel time “and did a
rushing trade with the unfortunates who had missed their breakfast…. They
contentedly munched hot dogs during the whole service.”

Even earlier, in 1894, hot dog was used as slang for a well-dressed young man.
With the new meaning, hot dog soon showed up at other colleges and at
ballparks, and by the early twentieth century it had become the standard name
for a sausage on a bun, despite competition from red hot (1896) and the more
polite frankfurter (1894) and wiener (1900). (Despite persistent legend, the hot
dog was not named in a baseball cartoon by T.A. Dorgan of the New York Journal.
No such cartoon exists.)
In the twentieth century, rather than an ingredient, the dog became the sausage
itself, so today we can speak of turkey dogs and cheese dogs. The other meaning
of hot dog persisted too, but now it refers more to daredevil behavior than to
spiffy clothing.
Huckleberry (1670)
A 1670 description of Long Island said, “The Fruits natural to the Island, are
Mullberries, Posimons, Grapes great and small, Huckelberries.” The huckleberry,
named after the similar English hurtleberry, is small and dark, something like a
blueberry. The resemblance is such that in some places huckleberry is used as
the name for the blueberry.
Both in agriculture and in the American vocabulary, the huckleberry has been
humble. In the 1800s, huckleberry meant “a small thing,” as in an 1844 account
from West Virginia: “Why, this thing laying here ain’t a circumstance—hardly a
huckleberry to him.” A small bet was “a huckleberry to a persimmon.” By virtue
of its lowly status, however, huckleberry was chosen for the title role in one of
the most renowned of American novels, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn (1884), starring a character introduced in a supporting role in
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). “No, one doesn’t name his characters
haphazard,” Twain told an interviewer in 1895. “Finn was the real name of the
other boy, but I tacked on the ‘Huckleberry.’ You see, there was something about
the name ‘Finn’ that suited, and ‘Huck Finn’ was all that was needed to somehow
describe another kind of a boy than ‘Tom Sawyer,’ a boy of lower extraction or

Joe (1850)
A name given at several American colleges to a privy. It is said that when Joseph
Penney was President of Hamilton College, a request from the students that the
privies might be cleansed was met by him with a denial. In consequence of this
refusal, the offices were purified by fire on the night of November 5th. The
derivation of the word, allowing the truth of this story, is apparent.
The following account of Joe-Burning is by a correspondent from Hamilton
College: --

“ On the night of the 5th of November, every year, the Sophomore Class burn
‘Joe.’ A large pile is made of rails, logs and light wood, in the form of a triangle.
The space within is filled level to the top, with all manner of combustibles. A ‘Joe’
is then sought for by the class, carried from its foundations on a rude bier, and
placed on this pile. The interior is filled with wood and straw, surrounding a barrel
of tar placed in the middle, over all of which gallons of turpentine are thrown, and
then set fire to. From the top of the lofty hill on which the College buildings are
situated, this fire can be seen for twenty miles around. The Sophomores are all
disguised in the most odd and grotesque dresses. A ring is formed around the
burning ‘Joe,’ and a chant is sung. Horses of the neighbors are obtained and
ridden indiscriminately, without saddle or bridle. The burning continues usually
until daylight.”

kudos (1856)
Greek; literally, glory, fame. Used among students, with the meaning credit,
I was actuated not merely by a desire after the promotion of my own kûäos, but
by an honest wish to represent my country well.—Bristed’s Five Years in an Eng.
Univ., Ed. 2d, pp. 27, 28.

Lallygag (1860)
To dawdle, to lie around. The word first appeared in print in Idaho and Iowa in the
late 1860s, but its derivation is unknown. Also spelled lollygag.

Lap-ear (1856)
At Washington College, Penn., students of a religious character are called lap-
ears or donkeys. The opposite class are known by the common name of bloods.

Lem (1845)
At Williams College, a privy.
Night had thrown its mantle over earth. Sol had gone to lay his weary head in the
lap of Thetis, as friend Hudibras has it. The horned moon, and the sweet pale
starts, were looking serenely upon the darkened earth, when the denizens of this
little village were disturbed by the cry of fire. The engines would have been
rattling through the streets with considerable alacrity, if the fathers of the town
had not neglected to provide them; but the energetic citizens were soon on hand.
There was much difficulty in finding where the fire was, and heads and feet were
turned in various directions, til at length some wight of superior optical powers
discovered a faint, ruddy light in the rear of West College. It was an ancient
building, —a time-honored structure, —an edifice erected by our forefathers, and
by them christened LEMUEL, which in the vernacular tongue is called Lem “for
short.” The dimensions of the edifice were about 120 by 62 inches. The loss is
almost irreparable, estimated at not less than 2,000 pounds, avoirdupois. May it
rise like a Phoenix from its ashes!—Williams Monthly Miscellany, 1845, Vol. I. p.
464, 465.

Loaf (1856)
At Princeton College, to borrow anything, whether returning it or not; usually in
the latter sense.

Long-ear (1856)
At Jefferson College, Pennsylvania, a student of a sober or religious character is
denominated a long-ear. The opposite is short-ear.

Make up (1848)
To recite a lesson which was not recited with the class at the regular recitation. It
is properly used as a transitive verb, but in conversation is very used
intransitively. The following passage explains the meaning of the phrase more
A student may be permitted, on petition to the Faculty, to make up a recitation or
other exercise from which was absent and has been excused, provided his
application to this effect be made within the term in which the absence occurred.
—Laws of Univ. at Cam., Mass., 1848, p. 16.
..sleeping,—a luxury, however, which is sadly diminished by the anticipated
necessity of making up back lessons.—Harv. Reg., p. 202.

Manhattan (1614)
As early as 1614, the name Manhattes appears on an English map, naming the
Indian tribe that lived on the island where New York City now has its center. In
1626 the Dutch came and gave the Manhattes twenty-four dollars in goods to
vacate the land. The Indians left, but their name stayed to designate the island.
Less than forty years later the English took over without paying the Dutch a cent.
In the late nineteenth century, new meaning was distilled from the old word with
the invention of the Manhattan cocktail, made of sweet vermouth, whiskey, and
bitters. In the early twentieth century it became additional food for thought as
the name of tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder.

Mingo (1795)
Latin. At Harvard College, this word was formerly used to designate a chamber-

To him that occupies my study,

I give for use of making toddy,
A bottle full of white-face Stingo,
Another, handy, called a mingo - Will of Charles Prentiss, in Rural Repository,

Many years ago, some of the students at Harvard College, wishing to make a
present to their Tutor, Mr. Flynt, called on him, informed him of their intention,
and requested him to select a gift which would be acceptable to him. He replied
that he was a single man, that he already had a well-filled library, and in reality
wanted nothing. The students, not all satisfied with this answer, determined to
present him with a silver chamber-pot. One was accordingly made, of the
appropriate dimensions, and inscribed with these words:

“Mingere cum bombis

Res est saluberrima lumbis.”
On the morning of Commencement Day, this was borne in procession, in a
morocco case, and presented to the Tutor. Tradition does not say with what
feelings he received it, but it remained for many years at a room in Quincy,
where he was accustomed to spend his Saturdays and Sundays, and finally
disappeared, about the beginning of the Revolutionary War. It is supposed to
have been carried to England.

Minor (1856)
A privy. From the Latin minor, smaller; the word house being understood. Other
derivations are given, but this seems to be the most classical. This word is
peculiar to Harvard College.

Miss (1 of 2 entries) (1856)

An omission of a recitation, or any college exercise. An instructor is said to give a
miss, when he omits a recitation.
A quaint professor of Harvard College, being once asked by his class to omit the
recitation for that day, is said to have replied in the words of Scripture: “Ye ask
and receive not, for ye ask a–miss.”
In the “Memorial of John S. Popkin, D.D.,” Professor Felton has referred to this
story, and has appended to it the contradiction of the worthy Doctor. “Amusing
anecdotes, some true and many apocryphal, were handed down in College from
class to class, and, so far from being yet forgotten, they are rather on the
increase. One of these mythical stories was, that on a certain occasion one of the
classes applied to the Doctor for what used to be called, in College jargon, a
miss, i.e. an omission of recitation. The Doctor replied, as the legend run, ‘Ye ask,
and ye receive not, because ye ask a–miss.’ Many years later, this was told to
him. ‘It is not true,’ he exclaimed, energetically. ‘In the first place, I have not wit
enough; in the next place, I have too much wit, for I mortally hate a pun. Besides,
I never allude irreverently to the Scriptures.” —p. lxxvii.
Or are there some who scrape and hiss
Because you never give a miss.—Rebelliad, p. 62.——is good to all his subjects,
Misses gives he every hour.—MS. Poem.

Miss (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

To be absent from a recitation or any college exercise. Said of a student.
Who will recitations miss! –Rebelliad, p. 53.
At every corner let us hiss ’em;
And as for recitations,-—miss’em.—Ibid., p. 58.
Who never misses declamation,
Nor cuts a stupid recitation. - Harvardiana, Vol. III. p. 283
Missing chambers will be visited with consequences more to be dreaded than the
penalties of missing lecture.—Collegian’s Guide, p. 304.

Mouth (1856)
To recite in an affected manner, as if one knew the lesson, when in reality he
does not.
Never shall you allow yourself to think of going into the recitation-room, and
there trust to “skinning,” as it is called in some colleges or “phrasing,” as in
others, or “mouthing it,” as in others.—Todd’s Student’s Manual, p. 115.

Moxie (1876)
The twentieth century may pride itself on miracles of modern medicine, but it’s
not the first; the nineteenth century was not shy about medical miracles of its
own. It was the great era of the CURE-ALL(1821). Moxie had its beginning as the
name for a medical marvel of this kind, invented in 1876 by Dr. Augustin
Thompson of Union, Maine. If we are to believe the label on its 26-ounce bottles,
this Moxie worked better than any twentieth-century wonder drug (1939): it
claimed to cure “brain and nervous exhaustion, loss of manhood, imbecility and
helplessness....It gives a durable solid strength, and makes you eat voraciously;
takes away the tired, sleepy, lifeless feeling like magic, removes fatigue from
mental and physical overwork at once.”
According to the label, Moxie was named after a Lieutenant Moxie, who
discovered the active ingredient, “a simple sugarcane-like plant grown near the
Equator and farther south.” But Frederic Cassidy, editor of the Dictionary of
American Regional English, suspects that both the lieutenant and the plant may
be inventions. Dr. Thompson could have gotten the name of his tonic much closer
at hand, from a plant called moxie-berry, that was used in Maine by Indians, and
then by settlers, to make medicinal tea.
In the twentieth century, federal drug laws removed the extravagant claims from
the Moxie label. But a Boston softdrink manufacturer took over the Moxie name in
the 1920s, applied it to a frizzy drink made with gentian root, and perpetuated its
vigorous connotations so successfully that by the 1930s moxie had acquired a
new life independent of the beverage. It had become a slang synonym for
strength, energy, courage, and mental sharpness combined.

Mrs. Goff (1856)

Formerly a cant phrase for any woman.
But cease the touching chords to sweep,
For Mrs. Goff has designed to weep. - Rebelliad, p. 21.

Neat (1830)
good, admirable. The tame version of “cool” in the 1950’s, but around since the

Nifty (1830)
good. A major good-child adjective of the 1950’s coined in the 1830’s.

Not! (1 of 2 entries) (1890)

used for humorously canceling what has just been said. Associated with ‘Wayne’s
World’ in the 1990’s, but found one hundred years earlier.

Number ten (1856)

At the Wesleyan University, the names “No. 10, and, as a sort of derivative, No.
1001, are applied to the privy.” The former title is used also at the University of
Vermont, and at Dartmouth College.

Nuts (1856)
A correspondent from Williams College says, “We speak of a person whom we
despise as being a nuts.” This word is used in the Yorkshire dialect with the
meaning of a “silly fellow.” Mr. Halliwell, in his Dictionary of Archaic and
Provincial Words, remarks: “It is not applied to an idiot, but to one who has been
doing a foolish action.”

OK (1839)
Is it a word, a phrase, an abbreviation, an acronym? Do you spell it O.K., OK, o.k.,
or okay? Any way, it’s OK. This most uncategorizable of Americanisms is
categorically the most successful of all time. OK is “all correct.”
That was its original meaning, an in-your-face misspelling of the first letters of all
and correct. In 1839, when we first come across it, O.K. was just one of many
humorous abbreviations in the newspapers of Boston, like O.F.M. (our first men),
S.P. (small postatoes), and R.T.B.S. (remains to be seen), and like these other
abbreviations, O.K. was usually spelled with periods. The modern expert on OK,
Columbia University professor Allen Walker Read, found the epidemic of
abbreviations then spread to the newspapers of New York City, Philadelphia, and
New Orleans, not to mention Chicago and the small town of Peru, Illinois. When
the fad for abbreviations faded a few years later, only two of them, N.G. (no go,
no good) and O.K., took permanent hold. But O.K. took off like a rocket.
Why? Because the following year,1840, was a presidential election year, and
Martin Van Buren, a.k.a. “Old Kinderhook” because of his birthplace in
Kinderhook, New York, was up for reelection. His supporters, the Democrats,
formed an O.K. Club in New York City that attained notoriety not only with
torchlight parades but also by disrupting rallies of Van Buren’s Whig opponent,
William Henry Harrison. Although O.K. the politician lost the election, O.K. the
expression doubled its strength. From that time on, America was O.K.
After these humorous and political beginnings, O.K. settled in to make itself
indispensable, sometimes losing its periods in the process and becoming simply
OK. OK was quickly recognized as a brief, distinctive, universally understood
annotation to indicate approval of a document, and a brief, distinctive,
universally understood spoken response to indicate understanding and
acceptance of a request or order. Its brevity, simplicity, and distinctiveness have
commended it to languages the world over. OK is America’s most successful
linguistic export.

Out of sight (1870)

fantastic. A vital word of the hippie era, coined in the 1870’s.

Peruvian (1856)
At the University of Vermont, a name by which the students designate a lady;
e.g., “There are two hundred Peruvians at the Seminary”; or, “The Peruvians are
in the observatory.” As illustrative of the use of this word, a correspondent
observes: “If John Smith has a particular regard for any one of the Burlington
ladies, and Tom Brown happens to meet the said lady in his town peregrinations,
when he returns to College, if he meets John Smith, he (Tom) says to John, ‘In
yonder village I espied a Peruvian’; by which John understands that Tom has had
the very great pleasure of meeting John’s Dulcinea.”

Phony (1900)
We began the 1900s in a phony way, at least in our slang. The first instance of
phony meaning “fake” or “not genuine” is from journalist George Ade in his book
More Fables In Slang, published in 1900: “The Sensitive Waitress hurried Away,
feeling hurt. ‘Overlook all the Phoney Acting by the Little Lady, Bud,’ said the
Fireman to the Advance Agent. ‘She’s only twenty-seven.’” Then in 1902, in the
even more extreme slang of C.L. Cullen’s Six Ex-Tank Tales, we find another
instance of phony: “If youse tinks f’r a minnit dat youse is goin’t git away wit’ a
phony like dat wit’ me youse is got hay in y’r hemp, dat’s wot.”
Before the new century was much further advanced, phony became sufficiently
dignified to appear in more standard contexts as well, although it still had a
strong colloquial flavor. In the Saturday Evening Post of 1909 we find a character
saying, “I gave the sucker my name and address (both phony of course) and
promised to send two hundred dollars as soon as I got home.” And in the 1949
Chicago Tribune, “Stop moaning about that phony blonde and her phonier
The origin of phony is obscure, but it has been linked to the English cant
expression fawney rig (1754), a swindle in which a brass ring or other piece of
jewelry is dropped before the victim. The cheat then retrieves the expensive-
looking ring and offers it to the victim at a supposedly bargain price. Fawney is
attributed to Irish fáinne, meaning “ring,” as it was a ring that was most popular
in this scam.

Pig (1811)
a policeman. Never far from the lips of 1960’s radicals; first recorded in 1811.
Pioneer (1741)
America did not have pioneers until the nineteenth century. Or rather, for the first
two centuries of English-speaking North America, the word pioneers meant
something quite different than “people who settled the wilderness.” In England,
and in the American colonies, pioneer was a military term. Pioneers were laborers
who went in advance of armies. They paved the way by clearing paths, building
roads and digging trenches. A South Carolina historian in 1741 wrote of an
unsuccessful siege of St. Augustine, Florida, earlier in that century, involving
“800 pioneers (Negroes or White Men), with Tools Sufficient for that number of
men, Such as Spades, Hoes, Axes, and Hatchets to Dig Trenches.”
These pioneers did unglamorous grunt work, but they were also the ones in front,
clearing the way for others. So when a nineteenth-century writer applied the
word pioneers to the early land-clearing settlers in a new region, it caught on.
Timothy Dwight, writing about his travels in New England and New York in 1817,
said, “A considerable part of those, who begin the cultivation of the wilderness,
may be denominated foresters, or Pioneers.” And so they were throughout the
rest of that century, as pioneers transformed the width of the continent into
settled territory.
Pioneers in this sense are now historical or literary memories, as in novels like
Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! (1913). We (and the English) now apply the word to
one who is first in discovery, exploration, or achievement in any field, especially
science and medicine. But we also recall the nineteenth-century meaning with
“pioneer days” in communities that were settled during a century of westward
Plantation (1645)
It was not new to call a colonial settlement a plantation. That was the term used
for the earliest English colonies, both in Virginia and in New England. But as the
PLANTERS (1619) prospered, plantation took on a new American meaning, “an
individual homestead or farm.” This is mentioned in a Connecticut notice of 1645
regulating the purchase of “any plantation or land.” For the most part, however,
northerners preferred to speak of farms.
Not so in the South, where individually owned plantations of tobacco, sugar cane,
rice, and cotton grew grand and opulent through slave labor. Starting in the
eighteenth century, plantation came to mean just such a place, the focus of
Southern wealth, culture, and mythology until the time of the Civil War, as
opposed to the cities of the industrial and mercantile North. Thus, leading
Southern political figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had
plantations, while northerners Ben Franklin and John Adams did not.

Pole (1856)
At Princeton and Union Colleges, to study hard, e.g. to pole out the lesson. To
pole on a composition, to take pains with it.

Poler (1856)
One who studies hard; a close student. As a boat is impelled with poles, so is the
student by poling, and it is perhaps from this analogy that the word poler is
applied to a diligent student.

Poling (1854)
Close application to study; diligent attention to the specified pursuits of college.
A writer defined poling, “wasting the midnight oil in company with a wine-bottle,
box of cigars, a ‘deck of eucre,’ and three kindred spirits,” thus leaving its real
meaning to be deduced from its opposite.—Sophomore Independent, Union
College, Nov., 1854.

Pony (1 of 2 entries) (1832)

A translation. So called, it may be, from the fleetness and ease with which a
skillful rider is enabled to pass over places which to a common plodder present
many obstacles. One writer jocosely defines this literary nag as “the animal that
ambulates so delightfully through all the pleasant paths of knowledge, from
whose back the student may look down on the weary pedestrian, and ‘thank his
stars’ that ‘he who runs may read.’” —Sophomore Independent, Union College,
Nov. 1854. And stick to the law, Tom, without a Pony.—Harv. Reg., p. 194. And
when leaving, leave behind us
Ponies for a lower class;
Ponies, which perhaps another,
Toiling up the College hill,
A forlorn, a “younger brother,
“Riding,” may rise higher still. - Poem before the Y.H. Soc., 1849, p. 12
Their lexicons, ponies, and text-books were strewed round their lamps on the
table.—A Tour through College, Boston, 1832, p. 30. In the way of “pony,” or
translation to the Greek of Father, Griesbach, the New Testament was wonderfully
convenient.—New England Magazine, Vol. III. p.208. The notes are just what notes
should be; they are not a pony, but a guide.— Southern Lit. Mess

Instead of plodding on foot along the dusty, well-worn McAdam of learning, why
will you take nigh cuts on ponies?—Yale Lit. Mag., Vol. XIII. p. 281. The “board”
requests that all who present themselves will bring along the ponies they have
used since their first entrance in College.—The Gallinipper, Dec. 1849. The tutors
with ponies their lessons were learning. - Yale Banger, Nov. 1850. We do think,
that, with such a team of “ponies” and load of commentators, his instruction
might evince more accuracy.—Yale Tomahawk, Feb. 1851. In knowledge’s road
ye are but assess,
While we on ponies ride before. - Songs of Yale, 1853, p. 7.

Pony (2 of 2 entries) (1852)

To use a translation.
We learn that they do not pony their lessons.—Yale Tomahawk, May, 1852.

Popularity (1856)
In the college use, favor of one’s classmates, or of the members of all the
classes, generally. Nowhere is this term employed so often, and with so much
significance, as among collegians. The first wish of the Freshman is to be popular,
and the desire does not leave him during all his college life. For remarks on this
subject, see the Literary Miscellany, Vol. II. p. 56; Amherst Indicator, Vol. II. p.
123, et passim.

Punk (1618)
Something like punk has been smoldering in American English for hundreds of
years, undergoing drastic changes of meaning from century to century. It began
as a bizarre kind of overcooked corn, explained in a 1618 account of certain
Indians in Virginia: “Some of them, more thriftye then cleanly, doe burne the
coare of the eare to powder, which they call pungnough, mingling that in their
meale, but yt never tasted well in bread or broath.” Around that time, also, punk
was a word for “ashes” in the Delware Indian language.
A couple of centuries later, punk had become a word for the slow-burning sticks
used in kindling fireworks. By 1889 it was a slang term for a cigarette, and by the
end of the century punk had a sense “worthless” as in a story by George Ade:
“And this crowd up there was purty-y-y punk.”
Today’s first meaning of punk, a small-time hoodlum, developed in the period
between the World Wars. And in the late 1970s punk came to designate bizarre
clothing and body decorations associated with loud and aggressive rock music. To
the general public, it still has an unpleasant taste.

Ram (1854)
A practical joke.

Rodeo (2001)
(roh-DAY-oh; ROH-dee-oh) 1. First, in the Southwest, a ROUNDUP, a gathering of

Rowl (1 of 2 entries) (1856)

To recite well. A correspondent from Princeton College defines this word, “to
perform any exercise well, recitation, speech, or composition; to succeed in any
branch of pursuit.”

Rowl, rowel (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

At Princeton, Union, and Hamilton Colleges, this word is used to signify a good
recitation. Used in the phrase, “to make a rowl.” From the second of these
colleges, a correspondent writes: “Also of the word rowl; if a public speaker
presents a telling appeal or passage, he would make a perfect rowl, in the
language of all students at least.”
Rush (1 of 2 entries) (1846)
At Yale College, a perfect recitation is denominated a rush. I got my lesson
perfectly, and what is more, made a perfect rush. —Yale Lit. Mag., Vol. XIII. p.
Every rush and fizzle made
Every body frigid laid. - Ibid., Vol. XX. p. 186.
This mark [that of a hammer with a note, “hit the nail on the head”] signifies that
the student makes a capital hit; in other words, a decided rush.—Yale Banger,
Nov. 10, 1846.
In dreams his many rushes heard. - Ibid., Oct. 22, 1847.
This word is much used among students with common meaning; thus, they speak
of “a rush into prayers,” “a rush into the recitation-room,” &c. A correspondent
from Dartmouth College says: “Rushing the Freshmen is putting them out of the
chapel.” Another from Williams writes: “Such a man is making a rush, and to this
we often add—for the Valedictory.”

The gay regatta where the Oneida led,

The glorious rushes, Seniors at the head. - Class Poem, Harv. Coll., 1849.

One of the Trinity men.....was making a tremendous rush for a Fellowship.—

Bristed’s Five Years in an Eng. Univ., Ed. 2d, p. 158

Rush (2 of 2 entries) (1848)

To recite well; to make a perfect recitation.
It was purchased by the man,—who ‘really did not look’ at the lesson on which he
‘rushed.’—Yale Lit. Mag.,Vol XIV. p. 411.
Then for the students mark flunks, even though the young men may be rushing.
—Yale Banger, Oct., 1848.
So they pulled off their coats, and rolled up their sleeves, And rushed in Bien.
Examination. - Presentation Day Songs, Yale, Coll., June 14, 1854.

Sail (1856)
At Bowdoin College, a sail is a perfect recitation. To sail is to recite perfectly

Saint (1856)
A name among students for one who pretends to particular sanctity of manners.
Or if he had been a hard-reading man from choice, —or a stupid man, —or a
“saint,”—no one would have troubled themselves about him.—Blackwood’s Mag.,
Eng. ed., Vol. LX. p. 148.

Screw (1 of 2 entries) (1827)

To press with an excessive and unnecessarily minute examination.
Who would let a tutor knave
Screw him like a slave! - Rebelliad, p. 53.
Have I been screwed, yea, deaded morn and eve,
Some dozen moons of this collegiate life? - Harvardiana, Vol. III. p. 255.
O, I do well remember when in college,
How we fought reason,—battles all in play,—
Under a most portentous man of knowledge,
The captain-general in the bloodless fray;
He was a wise man, and a good man, too,
And robed himself in green whene’er he came to screw. - Our Chronicle of ‘26,
Boston, 1827.
In a note to the last quotation, the author says of the word screw: “ For the
information of the inexperienced, we explain this as a term quite rife in the
universities, and, taken substantively, signifying an intellectual nonplus.”

Screw (2 of 2 entries) (1832)

In some American colleges, an excessive, unnecessarily minute, and annoying
examination of a student by an instructor is called a screw. The instructor is often
designated by the same name.
Haunted by day with fearful screw. - Harvard Lyceum, p. 102.
Screws, duns, and other such like evils. - Rebelliad, p. 77.
One must experience all the stammering and stuttering, the unending doubtings
and guessings, to understand fully the power of a mathematical screw.—Harv.,
Reg., p. 378.
The consequence was, a patient submission to the screw, and a loss of college
honors and patronage.—A Tour through College, Boston, 1832, p. 26.
I’ll tell him a whopper next time, and astonish him so that he’ll forget his screws.
—Yale Lit. Mag., Vol. XI. p. 336.
What a darned screw our tutor is.—Ibid.
Apprehension of the severity of the examination, or what in after times, by an
academic figure of speech, was called screwing, or a screw, was what excited the
chief dread.—Willard’s Memories of Youth and Manhood, Vol. I. p. 256.
Passing such an examination is often denominated taking a screw.
And said it is to take a screw. - Harv., Reg., p. 287.
2. At Bowdoin College, an imperfect recitation is called a screw.
You never should look blue, sir,
If you chance to take a “screw,” sir,
To us it’s nothing new, sir,
To drive dull care away. - The Bowdoin Creed.
We’ve felt the cruel, torturing screw,
And oft its driver’s ire. - Song, Sophomore Supper, Bowdoin Coll., 1850.

Scrouge (1 of 2 entries) (1856)

An exaction. A very long lesson, or any hard or unpleasant task, is usually among
students denominated a scrouge.

Scrouge (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

To exact; to extort; said of an instructor who imposes difficult tasks on his pupils.
It is used provincially in England, and in in some of the Northern and Southern
States, with the meaning to crowd, to squeeze.—Bartlett’s Dict. of Americanisms.

Seedy (1848)
At Yale College, rowdy, riotous, turbulent.

And snowballs, falling thick and fast

As oaths from seedy Senior crowd. - Yale Gallinipper, Nov. 1848.

A seedy Soph beneath a tree.

Yale Battery, Feb. 1850.

Sell (1 of 2 entries) (1850)

An unexpected reply; a deception of trick. In the Literary World, March 15, 1851,
is the following explanation of this word: “Mr. Phillips’s first introduction to Curran
was made the occasion of a mystification, or practical joke, in which Irish wits
have excelled since the time of Dean Swift, who was wont (vide his letters to
Stella) to call these jocose tricks ‘a sell,’ from selling a bargain.” The word
bargain, however, which Johnson, in his Dictionary, defines “an unexpected reply
tending to obscenity,” was formerly used more generally among the English wits.
The noun sell has of late been revived in this country, and is used to a certain
extent in New York and Boston, and especially among the students at Cambridge.
I sought some hope to borrow, by thinking it a “sell,”
By fancying it a fiction, my anguish to dispel. - Poem before the Iadma of Harv.,
Coll., 1850, p. 8.

Sell (2 of 2 entries) (1850)

To give an unexpected answer; to deceive; to cheat.
For the love you bear me, never tell how badly I was sold.—Yale Lit. Mag., Vol. XX.
p. 94.
The use of this verb is much more common in the United States than that of the
noun of the same spelling, which is derived from it; for instance, we frequently
read in the newspapers that the Whigs or Democrats have been sold, i.e.
defeated in an election, or cheated in some political affair. The phrase to sell a
bargain, which Bailey defines “to put a sham upon one,” is now scarcely ever
heard. It was once a favorite expression with certain English writers.
Where sold he bargains, Whipstich?—Dryden.
No maid at court is less ashamed,
Howe’er for selling bargains famed.—Swift
Dr. Sheridan, famous for punning, intending to sell a bargain, said, he had made
a very good pun.—Swift, Bons Mots de Stella.

Shark (1853)
In student language, absence from a recitation, a lecture, or from prayers,
prompted by recklessness rather than by necessity, is called a shark. He who is
absent under these circumstances is also known as a shark.

The Monitors’ task is now quite done,

They’ve penciled all their marks,
“Othello’s occupation’s gone,” —
No more look out for sharks. - Songs of Yale, 1853, p. 45.

Shipwreck (1856)
Among students, a total failure.
His university course has been a shipwreck, and he will probably end by going
out unnoticed among the ПОλλОί —Bristed’s Five Years in an Eng. Univ. Ed., 2d,
p. 56.

Short-ear (1856)
At Jefferson College, Penn., a soubriquet for a roistering, noisy fellow; a rowdy.
Opposed to long-ear.

Skin (1 of 2 entries) (1846)

At Yale College, to obtain a knowledge of a lesson by hearing it read by another;
also, to borrow another’s idea and present them as one’s own; to plagiarize; to
become possessed of information in an examination or a recitation by unfair or
secret means. “In our examinations,” says a correspondent, “many of the fellows
cover the palms of their hands with dates, and when called upon for a given date,
they read it off directly from their hands. Such persons skin.”
The tutor employs the crescent when it is evident that the lesson has been
skinned, according to the colleges vocabulary, in which case he usually puts a
minus sign after it, with the mark which he in all probability would have used had
not the lesson been skinned.—Yale Banger, Nov. 1846.

Never skin a lesson which it requires any ability to learn.—Yale Lit. Mag., Vol. XV.
p. 81.

He has passively admitted what he has skinned from other grammarians. —Yale
Banger, Nov. 1846.

Perhaps the youth who so barefacedly skinned the song referred to, fondly
fancied, &c.—The Tomahawk, Nov. 1849.

He uttered that remarkable prophecy which Horace has so boldly skinned and
called his own.—Burial of Euclid, Nov. 1850.

A Pewter medal is awarded in the Senior Class, for the most remarkable example
of skinned Composition.—Burlesque Catalogue, Yale Coll., 1852-53, p. 29.

Classical men were continually tempted to “skin” (copy) the solutions of these
examples.—Bristed’s Five Years in an Eng. Univ., Ed. 2d, p. 381.
To skin ahead; at Hamilton College, to read a lesson over in the class immediately
before reciting.

Skin (2 of 2 entries) (1855)

A lesson learned by hearing it read by another; borrowed ideas; anything

Skinning (1848)
Learning, or the act of learning, a lesson by hearing it read by another;
Skunk (1856)
At Princeton College, to fail to pay a debt; used actively; e.g. to skunk a tailor, i.e.
not to pay him.

Skyscraper (1883)
Before it became a building, Americans knew skyscraper as “a high-flying bird”
(1840), “a tall hat or bonnet” (1847), or “a high fly ball in baseball” (1866). But in
1883, a visionary writer in American Architect and Building News declared that “a
public building should always have something towering up above all in its
neighborhood…This form of sky-scraper gives that peculiar refined, independent,
self-contained, daring, bold, heaven-reaching, erratic, piratic, Quixotic, American
thought (‘young America with his lack of veneration’). The capitol building should
always have a dome. I should raise thereon a gigantic ‘sky-scraper,’ contrary to
all precedent in practice, and I should trust to American constructive and
engineering skill to build it strong enough for any gale.” We have built
skyscrapers ever since.
In early America, the steeples of the churches reached closest to the heavens. In
the mid-nineteenth century, the state capitols raised themselves ever higher.
Even county courthouses attained new heights. But by the end of the century,
both church and state stood in the shade of the commercial skyscraper.
And for commercial developers it was not enough to take conventional
construction to its upper limit, ten or eleven stories with thick load-bearing walls.
American “constructive and engineering skill” enabled us to reach higher. We
used iron to reinforce the masonry walls, then to support the floors, then to
support both floors and walls. Finally we scrapped the iron entirely and replaced it
with a riveted steel skeleton, and buildings were at last free to rise to any height.
In the 1890s, fifteen stories was high for a skyscraper, but the twentieth century
soared much higher. In 1913, the Woolworth Building in New York City reached
sixty stories. That was overshadowed by New York’s Empire State Building in
1931, at 102 stories, which in turn yielded in 1974 to Chicago’s Sears Tower, at
110 stories--1454 feet tall.

Slang (1856)
To scold, chide, rebuke. The use of this word as a verb is in a measure peculiar to
students. These drones are posted separately as “not worthy to be classed,” and
privately slanged afterwards by the Master and Seniors. —Bristed’s Five Years in
an Eng. Univ., Ed. 2d, p. 74.

Slanging (1856)
Abusing, chiding, blaming.

Slave driver (1807)

There was no ignoring slavery in early nineteenth-century America. In the North it
was dying out, and abolitionists were beginning to speak against it; but in the
South slavery was more profitable than ever, thanks to the growth of cotton
plantations worked by slave labor. In 1807 the British abolished the import-export
slave trade, and in 1808, after a twenty-year wait imposed by Article 1, section 9
of the Constitution, the United States did too, but the number of native-born
slaves continued to increase and restrictions on them grew harsher.
As if to emphasize the inhumanity of slavery, just as there were drivers of cattle,
so there were drivers of slaves, a word used as early as 1763 for those who
literally whipped slaves to work. The combination slave driver, oddly enough,
appears first in an 1807 satire by Washington Irving that seems to have nothing
to do with American slavery. It is a purported letter “to Asem Hacchem, Principal
Slave-Driver to his Highness the Bashaw of Tripoli” from his American agent. The
letter directs its satire at the liberated women of New York City, not at slavery,
but the ascription of “Slave-Driver” to a notorious realm of pirates implies a
recognition of its barbarity.
It was an epithet to provoke a fight. In 1856, during the battle for “bleeding
Kansas” between pro- and antislavery settlers, an abolitionist prayer in a
Maryland newspaper asked, “Our Heavenly Father…help us to shiver the Union
into atoms rather than to concede to Southern demons, in the form of slave-
drivers, one inch of the disputed territory.”
Slavery fortunately is long gone, but the slave driver lives on today in the form of
the merciless taskmaster. And as Henry David Thoreau points out in the first
chapter of Walden (1846), this person is not necessarily an employer: “It is hard
to have a southern overseer; it is worse to have a northern one; but worst of all
when you are the slave-driver of yourself.”

Sleeping over (1856)

A phrase equivalent to being absent from prayers.

Slow (1854)
An epithet of depreciation, especially among students.

Its equivalent slang is to be found in the phrases, “no great shakes,” and “small
One very well disposed and very tipsy man who was great upon boats, but very
slow at books, endeavored to pacify me.—Bristed’s Five Years in an Eng. Univ., Ed
2d, p. 32.

The Juniors vainly attempted to show

That Sophs and Seniors were somewhat slow
In talent and ability.—Sophomore Independent, Union College, Nov. 1854.

Slow coach (1856)

A dull, stupid fellow.

Smash (1856)
At the Wesleyan University, a total failure in reciting is called a smash.

Smut (1856)
Vulgar, obscene conversation. Language which obtains:

“Where Bacchus ruleth all that’s done,

And Venus all that’s said.”

Smutty (1856)
Possessing the qualities of obscene conversation. Applied also to the person who
uses such conversation.

Snob (1856)
In the English universities, a townsman, as opposed to a student; or a
blackguard, as opposed to a gentleman; a loafer generally.—Bristed.
They charged the Snobs against their will,
And shouted clear and lustily.—Gradus and Cantab, p. 69.
Used in the same sense at some American colleges.
2. A mean or vulgar person; particularly, one who apes gentility.—Halliwell. Used
both in England and the United States, “and recently,” says Webster, “introduced
into books as a term of derision.”

Snobbish (1856)
Belonging to or resembling a snob.

Snub (1856)
To reprimand; check; rebuke. Used among students, more frequently than by any
other class of persons.

Splurgy (1852)
Showy; of greater surface than depth. Applied to a lesson which is well rehearsed
but little appreciated. Also to literary efforts of a certain nature, to character,
persons, &c.

Spoon, spooney (1849)

Like a spoon; possessing the qualities of a silly or stupid fellow.

I shall escape from this beautiful critter, for I’m getting spooney, and shall talk
silly presently.—Sam Slick.

Both the adjective and the noun spooney are in constant and frequent use at
some of the American colleges, and are generally applied to one who disliked
either for his bad qualities or for his ill-breeding, usually accompanied with the
idea of weakness.

He sprees, is caught, rusticates, returns next year, mingles with feminines, and is
consequently degraded into the spooney Junior.—Yale Lit Mag., Vol. XV. p. 208.
A "bowl" was the happy conveyance. Perhaps this was chosen because the
voyagers were spooney. - Yale Banger, Nov. 1849.

Spoops, spoopsy (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

At Harvard College, a weak, silly fellow, or one who is disliked on account of his
foolish actions, is called spoops, or spoopsy. The meaning is nearly the same as
that of spoony.

Spoopsy (1 of 2 entries) (1852)

Foolish; silly. Applied either to a person or thing.
Seniors always try to be dignified. The term “spoopsey” in its widest signification
applies admirably to them. —Yale Tomahawk, May, 1852

Squirt (1 of 2 entries) (1856)

At Harvard College, a showy recitation is denominated a squirt; the ease and
quickness with which the words flow from the mouth being analogous to the ease
and quickness which attend the sudden ejection of a stream of water from a pipe.
Such a recitation being generally perfect, the words squirt is very often used to
convey that idea. Perhaps there is not, in the whole vocabulary of college cant
terms, one more expressive than this, or that so easily conveys its meaning
merely by its sound. It is mostly used colloquially.
2. A foppish young fellow; a whipper-snapper.—Bartlett.
If they won’t keep company with squirts and dandies, who’s going to make a
monkey of himself?— Maj. Jones’s Courtship, p. 160.

Squirt (2 of 2 entries) (1856)

To make a showy recitation.
He’d rather slump than squirt. —Poem before Y.H., p. 9

Squirtish (1856)
Showy; dandified.

Stud (1803)
The English language was studded with studs long before anyone spoke it in
America. There were wooden studs like those now used in framing houses and
studs that were bumps, knobs, buttons, or nailheads. And as long ago as the year
1000 there were studs in England that were places for breeding horses.
But Americans can claim one proud innovation for stud: originating the sense “a
stallion, a male horse used for breeding.” An American, the Reverend Manasseh
Cutler, LL.D., in 1803 wrote of “the famous white stud, an Arabian horse, called
the Dey of Algiers, on the ground.” In 1845, the Knickerbocker reported, “A very
large stud broke from the line.” In 1891 a visitor to America wrote, “He was a
stud, and as fine a horse of his class as I ever saw.”
Somehow also in the late nineteenth century our stud (or the related word
studhorse) became the name for a variety of poker. In stud poker, every card
after the first is dealt face up so the other players can see it. Perhaps its
exhibitionistic quality suggests the stud, or perhaps it just requires horse sense.
Late in the nineteenth century, stud was used as a term for a “ladies’ man,” a
sexually attractive or promiscuous man. And by the 1920s, black Americans had
generalized the usage to refer to any young man, regardless of sexual behavior,
as in the 1970 book Positively Black: “But who’s this stud they call Billy?” We also
learned to use stud as an adjective to mean “fine or outstanding,” as well as
“manly.” Stud was one word that wouldn’t be kept down on the farm.

Stump (1856)
At Princeton College, to fail in reciting; to say, “Not prepared,” when called on to
recite. A stump, a bad recitation; used in the phrase, “to make a stump.”

Suck (1 of 3 entries) (1856)

At Middlebury College, to cheat at recitation or examination by using ponies,
interliners, or helps of any kind.

Suffrage (1843)
A vote is just a vote, but suffrage is a vote with high purpose. Thus it is no
surprise that the high-purposed radical movement to extend the vote to women
adopted the term suffrage to sum up its goal. Suffrage was already enshrined in
the United States Constitution, where it applies to a right so fundamental it
cannot be amended away. According to Article 5, the Constitution can be
amended with approval of the legislatures of three-fourths of the states, except
that “no State, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the
This was the first use of suffrage to mean “voting as a right rather than a
privilege.” In the earlier sense of “privilege,” suffrage had been in the English
language since the Middle Ages. Suffrages originally were prayers. Then the
meaning was extended to requests for assistance, then to assistance itself, then
the assistance provided by a supporting vote, and finally the vote itself. So it
stood when in 1787 the Constitution used suffrage to mean “an inalienable right
to vote.”
And the right to vote, not merely the condescending permission to do so, was
what advocates of women’s equality sought. Hence they used suffrage, either in
the phrase female suffrage or simply by itself, with the understanding that
suffrage referred to the vote for the half of the adult population that had been
excluded. By the early 1840s there was a Suffrage Party with this mission.
Even beyond its legal meaning, suffrage had connotations that helped the cause.
The word evokes dual meanings of suffer: “to allow,” but also “to endure pain
and hardship,” here for the sake of achieving a goal . By a quirk of spelling,
suffrage also concludes with the “rage” that might be felt toward those who
would deny suffrage to women.
The goal of the suffrage movement was accomplished in 1920 with the
Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution: “The right of citizens of the United
States to vote shall be not be denied or abridged…on account of sex.” With that,
the word suffrage was retired too. Since then, campaigns to extend the vote have
simply called for “voting rights.”

Swell block (1856)

At the University of Virginia, a sobriquet applied to dandies and vain pretenders.

Tamale (1691)
Yes, a tamale or a hot tamale is a contemporary Mexican dish, popular in the
Southwest, and its name comes via Spanish from the Nahautl language of the
Aztecs of Mexico. But it happens that Americans who spoke English learned of it
before the seventeenth century was over. Something like a tamale was a staple
of the Indians of Virginia. Although he does not use the name, Captain John Smith
wrote about it as early as 1612: “Their corne they rost in the eare greene, and
bruising it in a morter of wood with a Polt [pestle], lappe it in rowles in the leaves
of their corne, and so boyle it for a daintie.”
The name itself is given in the account of another writer in 1691: “There are five
or six kinds of beans—all of them very good, also calabashes, watermelons and
sunflowers. The seed of all of these, mixed with corn make very fine tamales.”
Tamales is the plural. From it English speakers derived tamale in the nineteenth
century, not noticing that the Spanish singular is tamal. Today the definitive
ingredients are meat, cornmeal, and red pepper, the latter giving us the
expression hot tamale, which has been used to mean “a clever fellow” or “a sexy
woman.” That expression can heat up our language in other ways too, as in this
1996 editorial from the Herald-Sun of Durham, North Carolina: “So instead of the
convenience of a sensible rating system, parents will have to divine what lies
behind a six-tier rating system that begins with TV-G (suitable for all ages) and
ends with TV-M (don’t let the kiddies near this hot tamale).”

Tear (1856)
At Princeton College, a perfect tear is a very extra recitation, superior to a rowl.

Temple (1856)
At Bowdoin College, a privy is thus designated.

Ten-strike (1856)
At Hamilton College, a perfect recitation, ten being the mark given for a perfect

Tick (1832)
A recitation made by one who does not know what he is talking.
Ticks, screws, and deads were all put under contributions.—A Tour through
College, Boston, 1832, p. 25.

Ticking (1856)
The act of reciting without knowing anything about lessons.

And what with ticking, screwing, and deading, am candidate for a piece of
parchment to-morrow. –Harv. Reg., p. 194.

Tight (1 of 3 entries) (1848)

A common slang term among students; the comparative, of which drunk is the

Some twenty of as jolly chaps as e’er got jolly tight. — Poem before Y.H., 1849.

Hast spent the livelong night

In smoking Esculapios,—in getting jolly tight? — Poem before Iadma, 1850.

He clenched his fist as fain for fight,

Sank back, and gently murmured “tight.” — MS. Poem, W.F. Allen, 1848.

While fathers are bursting with rage and spite,

And old ladies vow that the students are tight. — Yale Gallinipper, Nov. 1848.

Speaking of the word “drunk,” the Burlington Sentinel remarks: “The last
synonyme that we have observed is ‘tight,’ a term, it strikes us, rather
inappropriate, since a ‘tight’ man, in the cant use of the word, is almost always a
‘loose character.’ We give a list of a few of the various words and phrases which
have been in use, at one time or another, to signify some stage of inebriation:
Over the bay, half seas over, hot, high, corned, cut, cocked, shaved, disguised,
jammed, damaged, sleepy, tired, discouraged, snuffy, whipped, how come ye so,
breezy, smoked, top—heavy, fuddled, groggy, tipsy, smashed, swipy, slewed,
cronk, salted, down, how fare ye, on the lee lurch, all sails set, three sheets in the
wind, well under way, battered, blowing, snubbed, sawed, boosy, bruised,
screwed, soaked, comfortable, stimulated, jug-steamed, tangle-legged, fogmatic,
blue-eyed, a passenger in the Cape Ann stage, striped, faint, shot in the neck,
bamboozled, weak jointed, got a brick in his hat, got a turkey on his back.”

Dr. Franklin, in speaking of the intemperate drinker, says, he will never, or

seldom, allow that he is drunk; he may be “boosy, cosey, foxed, merry, mellow,
fuddled, groatable, confoundedly cut, may see two moons, be among the
Philistines, in a very good humor, have been in the sun, is a little feverish, pretty
well entered, &c., but never drunk.”

A highly entertaining list of the phrases which the Germans employ “to clothe in
a tolerable garb of decorum that dreamy condition into which Bacchus frequently
throws his votaries,” is given in Howitt’s Student Life of Germany, Am. ed., pp.
296, 297.

2. At Williams College, this word is sometimes used as an exclamation; e.g. “O


Underground railroad (1842)

It was neither underground nor a railroad, just as nowadays an underground
newspaper does not come from under the ground and the information
superhighway is not a highway for cars to drive on. But railroads were the new
technology of the 1840s and the fastest way of getting from one place to
another, so when Southern slaves were whisked almost invisibly across the North
to freedom in Canada, it seemed as if a railroad had been operating somewhere
under the ground.
Underground railroad was uses as early as 1842 in a publication know as the New
York Semi-Weekly Express: “We passed 26 prime slaves to the land of freedom
last week….All went by the ‘underground railroad.’” And the name caught on
quickly. To the escaping slaves and the abolitionists who helped them,
underground railroad implied mystery, speed, and power. To slaveholding
southerners, it likewise implied mystery, speed, and power, thus justifying their
demonizing of the radicals who attacked their peculiar institution (1840). The
term was, however, somewhat misleading to both sides in that it made the
clandestine journey seem more organized and systematic that it actually was.
Those involved in the underground railroad soon elaborated on the railroad
language. There were passengers, the escaped slaves themselves. There were
stations, the houses and the barns along the way where the slaves were hidden
by sympathetic Northern whites and free blacks. And there were conductors who
took the passengers from station to station. A ride on the underground railroad
was indeed a ticket to freedom.

Wet (1856)
To christen a new garment by treating one’s friends when one first appears in it;
e.g. A. “Have you wet that new coat yet?” B. “No.” A. “Well, then, I should
recommend to you the propriety of so doing.” B. “What will you drink?” This
word, although much used among students, is by no means confined to them.

White House (1811)

The residence of the president of the United States did not start out as the White
House. In the early years of its occupancy by the Adamses and the Jeffersons, it
was called the President’s House. It took a proclamation by Theodore Roosevelt in
1901 to officially designate it the White House.
Many early presidents had a hand in the establishment of this important
government building. George Washington picked the site for the Federal City and
even supervised some of the construction of the President’s House. James Hoban,
an architect, won the contest for the design, though it is said that Thomas
Jefferson had submitted plans, too. The first to live there as president was John
Adams, in 1800, even though it was at the end of his term and the building was
far from complete. The first child born in the mansion was a grandchild of
Jefferson, resident president from 1801 to 1809.
Legend says it got the name White House when it was rebuilt and painted white
after the British burned it in 1814. In fact, it was known as the White House at
least three years earlier. A letter of 1811 mentions a politician who went “to act
as a sort of political conductor to attract the lightning that may issue from the
clouds round the Capitol and the White House at Washington.”

Wire (1856)
At Harvard College, a trick; an artifice; a stratagem; a dodge.

Wiry (1856)
Trickish; artful.

You-all (1824)
Now listen, you-all, if you want to understand how you-all became the most
important word in the Southern vocabulary and the easiest way to tell a
southerner from a Yankee. You-all is the Southern solution to a problem that arose
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the English language became
too polite. We had been using thou in speaking to one person and you to more
than one, but you seemed more polite, so by the time the United States came
into existence, we (and the English) said you to one person too. The only thous
left were in prayers, poems, and in the plain talk of the Quakers.
But when you became singular, referring to just one person, what could we say to
more than one? We could still say you, of course, but we could also do something
to you to make it plural. Some people just added the s we usually use for plurals,
making the word we spell youse. Others spoke of you-uns. Today, many say you
guys, regardless of the gender of the guys.
The South had a different solution. Americans in the South added all to form the
plural, making you-all. And while the Northern plurals never made their way into
polite society, always sounding a little uncouth, you-all became the essence of
Southern good manners.
People from the North sometimes think southerners use you-all all the time, even
when speaking to one person. That just ain’t true. When southerners ask “How
y’all?” they are being polite, including a person’s whole family in their inquiry. No,
you-all is just a nice Southern way to make distinctions of person.

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