Sunday, September 20, 2020

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 15

The spoken word is an unparalleled historical record. The origins of phrases provide intriguing glimpses into past eras. They connect us with those who lived before us in a very personal way. Besides all that, it's plain fun to learn about words and phrases. 

This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 15

This month’s installment in the "Wild West Sayings We Use Today" blog series touches on the law of supply and demand, the movie "Casablanca," and the California Gold Rush. Enjoy! 

Hill of Beans

Something that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans isn’t worth much. This American colloquial slang expression reveals supply and demand at its finest. Beans are readily available, easy to grow, and plentiful. Hence, they are not worth much. Don’t ask me to explain this logic. I’m here to report the facts. 

Historical Reference: An earlier saying, ‘not worth a bean,’ dates from at least 1297. We know this because historian Robert of Gloucester included it in his English Chronicles.

The American love of hyperbole inserted ‘a hill of’ for emphasis in 1863. The most famous use of this term appeared in the classic movie, “Casablanca” when Humphrey Bogart uttered the famous line to Ingrid Bergman: “Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

Example: That washing machine I bought wasn’t worth a hill of beans.

Hither and Yon/Hither and Thither

These ways of saying ‘here and there’ or ‘to and fro’ don’t show up in conversations much anymore, but it’s a shame to lose such beauties. They’re the kind of phrases you look for the chance to utter, or at least I do. I suspect these phrases endure in pockets of the United States. My non-scientific theory is based on the fact that my Missourian mother used both of them when I was a child. However that may be, the terms did not originate in America.

Historical Reference: Lexicographer Francis Grose first recorded 'hither' in A provincial glossary: with a collection of local proverbs, and popular superstitions. The year was 1787. Grose identified the term as colloquial slang from the north of England. The 8th-century word spelled 'hyder' or ‘hider,' changed to 'hether' by the 17th century, became 'hither' in the mid-1700s, and is spelled ‘here' today.

Similarly, 'thither' started as 'dider,' became 'thyder’ and 'thether,' and is now 'there.'

‘Yon’ is a shortened version of ‘yonder.’ Most of us think of yonder as a vague, far-away place, but the word actually means 'a distance away, but within sight.'

Example: Do you expect me to search hither and thither for your glasses?

Hit Pay Dirt

Someone who hits pay dirt strikes it rich or otherwise discovers something of value. Hitting pay dirt originated in the mining industry, but eventually described any method of gaining wealth or something valuable.

Historical Reference: This bonafide Wild West term originated in the 1850s during the California Gold Rush. Pay dirt was soil or gravel that contained enough ore to make mining an area profitable.

Example: While researching my western historical novel, I hit pay dirt when I came across a collection of pioneer diaries. 
I’m curious whether any of you readers have heard or used ‘hither and thither’ or ‘hither and yon.’ What are some other expressions you can think of using the word, bean? Have you ever used the term, ‘hit pay dirt’? Tune in next month, same day, same blogger—for another installment in the Wild West Sayings We Use Today blog series. See you then!

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'm not sure I know of another saying involving "bean", but I know and have used "hill of beans". I also know and have heard of "hither and yon". "Pay dirt" I don't use but others do and I've heard it my whole life. I love these posts....I think YOU hit pay dirt when you thought of doing this!!!

  2. Hi, Connie. Thanks for your comments. Isn't that funny how you can hear an expression your whole life but never use it yourself? I'm glad you're enjoying this series. I am, too. :)