Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, part 16

Rambunctious behavior, snobbery, horses, and practical jokes all enter into the newest installment in the "Wild West Sayings We Use Today" blog series. I’m happy to know you are enjoying reading these posts about the history of words. They are a lot of fun to research and write. Enjoy!

This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt. 

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, part 16


This term for a self-important, haughty person originally described rambunctious behavior—a use that has almost died out in modern times.

Hoity-toity is an example of a reduplicated phrase, with one word conveying the meaning and the other rhyming for emphasis. In this case, the now-defunct verb ‘hoit’ referred to indulging in riotousness. ‘Hoit’ (to romp, riot, or play the fool) evolved from ‘hoyden’ (an overbearing fool or rambunctious female lacking in manners).

The change in definition seems to have come from the pronunciation of ‘hoity’ as ‘heighty,’ lending the impression of haughtiness to the term.

Historical Reference: The riotous meaning for hoity-toity first appeared in the 1668 translation 
by Sir Roger L'Estrange of The Visions of Don Francisco de Quevedo Villegas: "The Widows I observ'd ... Chanting and Jigging to every Tune they heard, and all upon the Hoyty-Toyty, like mad Wenches of Fifteen." 

The term took on its present meaning around the mid-1800s. It is found in O'Keefe's Fontainebleau (1784): "My mother...was a fine lady, all upon the hoity-toities, and so, good for nothing."

Example: Wearing long evening gloves and pointing pinkies while sipping tea is all very hoity-toity. 

Hold Your Horses

This slang expression directs another person to calm down and be patient. The origins are unclear, and the practical use of this phrase before the idiom emerged complicate the matter. However, it’s likely that the slang had its genesis in America, where in the 1800s, ‘hosses’ was slang for horses. ‘Hold your hosses’ appeared many times in print in America, beginning in 1844. ‘Hold your horses’ didn’t arrive in the slang sense until the 1900s. The original version hasn’t died out, as I can testify. I’ve heard the phrase with ‘hosses.’

Historical Reference: The slang term first appeared in the September 1844 edition of The Picayune, a New Orleans newspaper: “Oh, hold your hosses, Squire. There’s no use gettin’ riled, no how.”

Example: “Hold your horses, son. I’m still deciding whether to let you drive the car tonight.”

The Jig is Up

When a ruse or practical joke is exposed, we say ‘the jig is up’ just like they did in the Wild West. However, this term probably hails from the Elizabethan period (mid-to-late 16th century). It derived from a slang expression, now defunct, that meant the same as today. I like it when slang begets slang, don’t you? 

Historical Reference: The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York 1997) references the Elizabethan era connection.

Example: “The jig is up! You’re not fooling anyone by passing off a sweet potato pie for a pumpkin one.” 

Thanks as ever for joining me in celebrating the history of words. So tell me, can you name any other words that are probably reduplications? (Another example is helter skelter.) Have you ever heard someone say 'hosses' for 'horses'? Have you ever been found out in a practical joke?  

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 http://janalynvoigt.com.

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. Thank you for another wonderful post! I've heard of all of these sayings and used all but "the jig is up". And I have heard of "hosses" used as "horses" but more for making fun. Would "mish mash" be a reduplication? Probably not, but now you've got me thinking!

  2. Hi, Connie! You are on to something with 'mish mash.' It is a reduplication of 'mash.' Well done!