Monday, January 20, 2020

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 7

Charles Dickens, hobgoblins, Scotland, horse races, and Chinese immigrants to America -- this installment in the Wild West Sayings We Use Today blog series features them all. We’re making our way through the alphabet to discover the history of words that carry us back to a simpler time. Enjoy!

This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt. 

Wild West Sayings We Use Today


This word has multiple spellings, including caddywampus, caterwampus, catawampus. Related to catty-corner (cater-corner, kitty-corner), it describes something that is askew, having been knocked that way through some sort of mischief. The connotations of fierceness may hail from the similarity of a root word, cater, to catamount (cat of the mountain; mountain lion). 

Cattywampus started as an adjective in 1834, but then spent a brief stint as a noun. Charles Dickens called upon it to describe a frightening creature similar to a hobgoblin in Martin Chuzzlewit (1843). Cater had nothing to do with cats or fantasy monsters. Its meaning was much more prosaic: to move something diagonally. The second half of cattywampus may have come from the Scottish wampish (to wriggle, twist, or swerve).

Historical Reference: Cattywampus first appeared in John Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms, first edition (1848), on page 66: "In this debate Mr. B. was 'catawamptiously chawed up;' in his arguments were not only met, but his sarcasm returned upon himself with great effect. -- Charleston [South Carolina] Mercury (Stack Exchange).

Example: My teenage daughter’s room is all cattywampus after her slumber party.

Not by a long shot

This phrase describes attempting to accomplish a goal that is highly unlikely to succeed. Today the phrase appears in many countries but most often in America.

Historical Reference: Not by a long shot originated in Britain in the late 1700s. Its origin is unclear, but it seems likely that it referred to the inaccuracy of early firearms when shot from a distance. By the mid-1800s, the phrase was a slang term that projected the unlikelihood of a particular horse winning a race. 

A similar phrase with the same meaning, not by a long chalk, does not share the same origin. Dating from the early 1800s, it evolved from the use of chalk to tally game scores, most notably in pubs. Having a ‘long chalk’ indicated that a player would most likely lose.

Example: She hasn’t kept to her diet, not by a long shot.


This is a word for food.

Historical Reference: Describing food as chow originated in America, possibly in California, and dates from 1856. It may have derived from chow-chow, the Chinese pidgin word for mixed pickles, preserves, and other food combinations. Chow mein is one such dish. Another idea that holds merit is that chow came from the Chinese word ch'ao (to fry or cook). The thousands of Chinese who immigrated to America in order to build the railroads brought this word with them. Today we speak of ‘chowing down’ on ice cream, using chow as a verb, although it is still used as a noun.

Example: I’m hungry for some chow.

That’s it for now. Thanks for celebrating words and their meanings with me. Stop back next month (same time, same place) for another look at Wild West sayings we still use today.

About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt fell in love with literature at an early age when her father read chapters from classics as bedtime stories. When Janalyn grew older, she put herself to sleep with tales "written" in her head. Today Janalyn is a storyteller who writes in several genres. Romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy appear in all her novels in proportions dictated by their genre. Janalyn Voigt is represented by Wordserve Literary.

Learn more about Janalyn, read the first chapters of her books, subscribe to her e-letter, and join her reader clubs at

Montana Gold Series

Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, the Montana gold series explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.


  1. These posts are really fun! Thanks for doing the research!

  2. Of course, Connie! I'm having a lot of fun myself, doing the research.