Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 2

Bodie, California
As a child, while reading dictionaries for fun. I learned to my utter fascination that words contain hidden facets of meaning that glitter when brought to light. If that wasn’t enough to make a future author giddy, the fact that words have a history all their own certainly did.

I don’t know when I first became aware of history as a record of real lives. It didn’t happen in grade school, where I read dry text books and memorized data that held no power of connection to my existence. Perhaps my interest quickened when my family visited Bodie, a California ghost town that made quite an impression. You could walk onto the porches of long-vacated homes, see the tatters of curtains still hanging in the windows, even open the door and walk into a few of the buildings. Whenever it happened, history came alive to me at some point.

I suspect you can tell a similar tale. Let’s step back into history together, shall we? This is the second installment in our blog series. Did you miss the previous post? No worries. The words are in alphabetical order, but the posts themselves can be read in any order. If that would bug you, read “Wild West Words We Use Today” then come back here for today’s sampling of sayings used in the Wild West that are still used today. 

This article is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 2

Baker’s Dozen: this term had its origin during the Middle Ages but carried through Wild West times to us today. If you aren’t familiar with this saying, it refers to a group of thirteen—rather than twelve—bakery items. It might be tempting to picture a generous baker, his faced wreathed in layers of fat gleaned from sampling his own wares. However, the strongest argument for the expression’s origin hearkens to a time when dishonesty sparked regulations on what a loaf of bread should weigh. Handmade bread being hard to regulate, this presented a quite a problem for bakers. 

Accidentally cutting a customer short could land a baker in the pillary, which was a wooden framework with holes for the head and hands. While forced to stand in this device, a person endured public humiliation and abuse. A wise baker avoided this fate by throwing in a couple of extra slices with every loaf and an extra loaf with every dozen. This cautionary practice gave rise to the term ‘baker’s dozen.’

Balderdash: I can’t imagine a grander word for ‘exaggerated spoken nonsense.’ This word’s origin is obscure, but the earliest references from the 1600’s, link it to a muddled drink of beer or other spirits and milk. Synonyms include ‘claptrap,’ ‘blarney,’ ‘poppycock,’ and ‘tripe.’ I’m sure you get the picture.

Nowadays ‘balderdash’ has an antiquated, even comical feel. Treasure it while it’s here. This word is fading into history.

Bee in Your Bonnet:
If an idea has ever buzzed about inside your head, much like a bee’s pestering after you unwisely use a shampoo smelling of flowers, you can understand this expression. Having a bee in your bonnet is to be obsessed with an idea that won’t leave you alone. It was used in Wild West days, and due to the bonnet reference, you might think it originated during that era. However, Grammarphobia indicates that this phrase evolved from a saying first recorded in Virgil’s Eneados, Gavin Douglas’s Middle Scots version of the Aeneid: “Quhat berne be thou in bed, with hede full of beis?” (“What, man, rot thou in bed with thy head full of bees?”)

According to The Phrase Finder, the country of origin may well be Scotland. “Early bonnets were caps worn by men and boys and had gone out of use in England by the time the phrase emerged but continued to be used in Scotland.” Whatever it’s origin, this charming phrase isn’t used much these days and may be on its way out.

Blue Stocking: You may have come across this term applied in a derogatory fashion to a class of educated, privileged women. It’s origins place it in 1750, at the birth of London’s Blue Stockings Society, when a group of women began meeting to discuss literature, politics, or other topics of the day. The meetings were informal, and many of the ladies adopted blue worsted stockings instead of formal black silk. Members of the Blue Stockings Society encountered scorn until attitudes about women being educated changed.

The Blue Stocking Society ended in the mid-eighteen-hundreds, but the term is still used to describe literary women.

At last we come to a word that originated in the Wild West. It came from a Mexican word meaning ‘a rich lode.’ The Spanish word derived from the Latin bonacia, which meant ‘fair weather at sea; prosperity,’ according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. ‘Bonus’ is a related word also in use today. I'm sure the Cartwrights from 'Bonanza,' the popular television show, would be pleased.

Note from Janalyn: Thanks for reading! Watch for next month’s post on the 20th as we continue our list of words popular in the Wild West that we still use today.

About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt's unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates breathtaking fictional worlds for readers. Known for her vivid writing, this multi-faceted author writes in the western historical romance, medieval epic fantasy, and romantic suspense genres.

Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary Agency. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA. When she's not writing, she loves to garden and explore the great outdoors with her family.

Learn more about Janalyn Voigt and her books.


  1. I love the sayings and old words, but the best thing about your post in my view is the description of how history came alive for you! Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. You're welcome, Connie. I'm about to launch a podcast in which I'll share some of my travel adventures. If you are interested in being notified, sign up for my newsletter: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/w0j9f8

  2. Hi Janalyn, Enjoyed your post! I vote for a rebirth of the Blue Stocking Society! And I want to be a member!

  3. Hi, Marilyn. I hear you! I had the same reaction. It's amazing to think those ladies bucked cultural norms in the middle of the 1700's. I wonder if I'd have had so much starch. Hats, er, bonnets off to them!

  4. Love these old sayings. It's fun to use one like balderdash or horse feathers in a historical story. Thanks for sharing these and I look forward to more.