Friday, November 20, 2020

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 17

Fun rhymes, steamboats, and muskets—what do they have in common? All relate to the latest batch of words in the Wild West Sayings We Use Today blog series. Come along as we explore the history of words and how they connect with history.

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 17

This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Let Her Rip

Let her rip describes going full-throttle. The pronoun, ‘her,’ usually refers to a motorized object. ‘Rip’ conveys the idea of heedless speed, as when a cloth is ripped rather than cut by scissors. A second meaning of the term is to give or receive permission to act with unbridled enthusiasm.

‘Let her rip’ entered the popular vernacular in the 1850s. The origins are unknown, but the expression may refer to the fact that when a steamboat went too quickly, it might explode and rip apart.

Historical References: ‘Let her rip’ appeared in reference to speeding up a train in the 1910 novel, Out West by (James Henry Edward) Secretan. “Git up more steam–this ain’t a funeral! Let her rip! Don’t mind the speed limit! Keep the whistle going!”

This idiom used in the permissive sense was in use as early as 1809 in the Farmington Enterprise: “‘Say,’ said Tommy, ‘did I ever tell you about the circus we had at our house the other night?’ ‘No,’ said I, settling back in my chair, ‘let her rip.’”

Example: My led-footed cousin likes to drive on back roads so he can let her rip without getting a ticket.


This phrase describes going somewhere or doing something rapidly. We know very little about its origin, except that it first appeared in print in 1817 and became popular in America around 1850. ‘Lickety’ is probably a playful extension of ‘lick,’ which in one sense means ‘an extremely fast sprint in a race.’ One clue to its origins is that its first known use was by the poetess nun, Mary MacKillop, who was Scottish. Lickety was used alone but also with ‘split,’ which was tacked on as a fanciful ending.

Historical Reference: "I rattl'd owre the A, B, C, as fast as lickitie An' read like hickitie." D McKillip’s Poems (1817) by Mary MackKillop. (Note: ‘hikitie’ was probably a fanciful rhyme for ‘lickitie,’ which was itself a playful extension of ‘lick.’ Both were meant to amuse.)

Example: We’d better head to the post office, lickity-split, before the doors close.

Lock, Stock, and Barrel

"Lock, stock, and barrel" is a term that designates every bit of something. It literally refers to parts of a gun: the firing mechanism (lock), the wooden butt (stock), and the cylindrical metal tube (barrel). A joke led to the metaphorical term. A gunsmith informed a Scotsman that his gun was beyond a repair and advised him to buy another. The Scotsman replied that he’d settle for replacing the lock, stock, and barrel. (In other words, the entire gun.)

Multiple variations of this story arose, beginning in the 1700s, Robert Burns wrote of it in April 1793 in a letter: “Let him mend the song, as the Highlander mended his gun; he gave it a new stock, a new lock, and a new barrel.” Depending on the story, the weapon is called a gun, pistol, musket, or a fowling piece. The original story probably referred to a musket.

Historical Reference: The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first figurative use as a letter Sir Walter Scott penned on October 29th, 1817. Writing about an old fountain on his estate, he explained that: “Like the High-landman’s gun, she wants stock, lock, and barrel, to put her into repair.”

Example: She invested everything she had—lock stock and barrel—in making her marriage succeed.

Thanks for spending a little time with me. I hope you enjoyed learning about these words. Did any of the meanings or history surprise you? Which was your favorite saying? 

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. Thanks again for continuing this fun series! I've heard and probably used all of these terms. Lickety split is probably the most smile-producing for me, as it makes me think of how a small child runs....with abandon, as fast as they can towards their goal! I hope you have a great and abundant Thanksgiving.

  2. Thanks, Connie. I think of the same thing you do for lickety split. That's why I posted a picture of a child. Have a lovely Thanksgiving yourself.