Thursday, February 20, 2020

Wild West Words We Use Today, Part 8

The theater, politics, and Andrew Jackson all come up in this installment in the Wild West Sayings We Use Today blog series. 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


Most people today have heard the word claptrap as a noun describing pretentious nonsense. This is actually a theater term from the 1700’s and was used for a stunt to attract applause (a clap trap). This word came to mean any artifice drawing attention to a political event. Later, it described nonsensical chatter. It’s not hard to understand the progression of this word from its theater origins to the political arena, and then on to foolish speech. Or is that just me?

Historical Reference: The earliest dictionary use of clap-trap appeared in The Universal Etymological English Dictionary (Vol. 2, 1727) by Nathan Bailey: “A CLAP Trap: A name given to the rant and rhimes that dramatick poets, to please the actors, let them go off with; as much as to say, a trap to catch a clap by way of applause from the spectators at a play.”

Example: I’m tired of hearing all that claptrap about how hard he has it at work.

Conniption Fit 

We still speak of a fit of hysterical excitement or anger as a conniption fit, just as people did in the Wild West. The origins of this expression are not clear. The fact that, centuries ago, ‘corruption’ was used interchangeably with ‘anger’ or ‘temper’ suggests one explanation. Another that seems more likely to me anyway is that conniption derived from ‘conapshus,’ a mispronunciation of captious, an adjective that means ‘tending to find fault or raise petty objections.’ 

Historical Reference: According to the podcast, Podictionary, a woman named Aunt Keziah became angry when Andrew Jackson canceled his visit to her small New England town. She fell down in what became the first recorded ‘conniption fit.’ It was 1833. 

Example: If my car keys don’t turn up, I’m going to have a conniption fit. 

Cotton To 

A person might say that he or she doesn’t ‘cotton to’ another person. This means the person is not drawn to or doesn’t like the other party. Or the opposite can be true. Saying that you cotton to another person means you mesh well. This phrase originated as a textile term in the fabric mills of 16th-century England. It became common in the southern United States, where cotton formed a primary crop. When fibers melded to form cotton cloth, they were said to cotton or cotton well. 

Historical Reference: The poet Sir George Wharton used ‘cotten’ as a verb to mean ‘make friendly advances’ in the 1648 pamphlet Mercurius Elencticus. 

Example: My mother really cottons to her new daughter-in-law. 

That’s it for this round. Thanks for indulging my interest in the history of words. 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 Voigt

Discover Montana Gold 

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.