Friday, September 20, 2019

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 3

In this article, we’ll delve into the meaning of more words that traveled to us through the Wild West era. It’s fun to connect with people of bygone days through language. I can recall using all of today’s featured words in childhood except the first. I discovered ‘brown study’ in the pages of vintage British books, which I was fond of reading. This is what future authors do, by the way—geek out over words and read antiquated books. At least that’s what I did. (Don’t ask me about reading dictionaries for fun.) 

This article is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

This is the third article in a monthly blog series. You don’t need to read the earlier posts to enjoy this one, but if you want to begin at the beginning, start here: Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 1.

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 3

Brown Study

This expression is on the decline, but since it’s still in the dictionary, I can get away with including it. I should clarify for the unfamiliar that this idiom is not a room in a building. ‘Study’ in this case has more to do with homework than houses. It’s all about concentration. ‘Being in a brown study’ describes someone who is so lost in thought as to be unaware of immediate surroundings. The thoughts are either memories and most often morose. The ‘brown’ part of this saying comes from the Middle Ages, when ‘brown’ was used much as like the modern ‘blue,’ to mean sunk in gloom.

Historical Reference: The first record of this saying was in a book entitled Dice-Play which harkens to 1532. The phrase peaked in popularity in the nineteenth century. Various authors included it in books they wrote. Dickens used it In David Copperfield: “I fell into a brown study as I walked on, and a voice at my side made me start.”

Example: She was lost in a brown study.

Buffalo, Buffaloed

When we speak of being buffaloed, we employ an expression that originated in the Wild West. The term means to be confused, intimidated, and cheated.

The link to the American bison seems obvious. These beasts, which I have seen up close, are quite muscular. They are also capable of stampeding. I was thankful for the barbed wire fence that separated me from the herd. Another idea presented is that ‘buffaloed’ refers to a buffalo herd’s milling about in confusion after its leader was shot.

True West magazine suggests a second meaning for buffaloed: bashing someone over the head without intent to kill. This was apparently a Wild West practice for allowing a drunk to sleep off an excess of liquor without recourse to jail.

Historical Reference: The 1904 version of the Oxford English Dictionary lists buffalo as an American verb and denotes it a slang term.

Example: Don’t try to buffalo me!

Bully for You

Once upon a time, ‘bully’ meant an exemplary person rather than a pariah, as it does today. This phrase contains a fading whisper of that 16th-century definition. ‘Bully for you’ began as a way of saying ‘well done’ or ‘good job,’ but in modern times, it is often given sarcastically.

Historical Reference: The earliest reference I can find for this slang term is from the June, 1861 Atlantic Monthly, p. 745. Other sources peg this phrase to the Civil War era.

Example: Bully for you, turning in your term paper on time!

Note from Janalyn

Thanks for enjoying the history of words with me. We’ll continue our jaunt down memory lane in future months.  

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 had never heard of "brown study" before this. Not sure it will replace "blue" or "funk" for me, but it was fun to learn about! Bully for you on this post, lol!!!

  2. It's interesting how we assign emotions to colors. The study of that connection is called color psychology. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.