Monday, April 20, 2020

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 10

What do cowboys, an English author, and macaroni have in common? They all relate in some way to the latest installment in the Wild West Sayings We Use Today blog series. Jump in where we are today or start at the beginning. 

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 10 


This colloquial expression for a residence, office, or other habitual abode has its roots in the 1500’s. It evolved from the description of a mine as a place of ‘diggings.’ Some sources link the origin of this meaning to the California and Australian goldrushes, although it predated both.

‘Digs,’ common in British slang, derived as an abbreviation of the older term. It describes living in shared facilities, typically as a student or single person.

Historical Reference: Diggings first referred to an entire locality as opposed to a single lodging. The first known use of the expression to describe an individual dwelling occurred in the 1838 book, Charcoal Sketches by Joseph Clay Neal: “Look here, Ned, I reckon it’s about time we should go to our diggings; I am dead beat.”

Example: She went home to her diggings.


People have longed enjoyed playing with words, apparently. In 1741, a process now known as reduplication (insertion of similar-sounds) most likely created dillydally from dally, which itself evolved from the Middle-English dalien, which derived from the Old French dalier. Got it? Which form of the word do you prefer? I vote for the fun one. 

Historical Reference: As a verb meaning ‘to delay,’ the earliest known use of dillydally is from 1741. It crops up in Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, a novel by English author Samuel Richardson: 'What you do, sir, do: don't stand dilly-dallying!' The term is found as a noun even earlier, in a 1610 quotation from Gervase Babington in his "Comfortable notes vpon the bookes of Exodus and Leuiticus": “Such dilly dally is fitter for heathens that know not God, than for sober Christians.1610 'Such dilly-dally is fitter for heathens that know not God.’”

Example: Don’t dillydally. There’s work to be done.


A truly American slang term, cowboys first used dude to describe a man as a city-slicker—a dandy who dressed in fashionable clothing but lacked practical skills. This use came from the song, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” where a fine fellow went to town, stuck a feather in his cap, and called it ‘macaroni.’ (Here, we must pause to explain that a ‘macaroni’ was a dandified young British man fond of the Italian dish by the same name he encountered during his travels. You're welcome.) 

By 1960, dude took on the meaning it retains today, as a general term for a man.

Historical Reference: In early 1883, the popular press began to call foppish young men ‘doods,’ a spelling that transitioned into ‘dudes.’”

Example: That dude really should learn to ride. 

Thanks for riding with me through time to discover the history of words that passed through the Wild West to us 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. I've enjoyed this series. I love finding out where phrases came from. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for letting me know Linda! I love that there are other word nerds out there. :)

  2. Thanks for the post! Glad there was no dilly-dallying here!

  3. Nor any shilly shallying either! If you didn't guess, that's a reduplication of 'shall.'