Saturday, February 20, 2021

Of Horses and Poetry (Wild West Words We Use Today)

Muddy footprints, Moses’s wanderings in the wilderness, political ambition, and a colt kicking up its heels—what do these things have in common? All have to do with the latest list of words that passed through the Wild West to us today. Saddle up, and let’s ride into our newest adventure with the meaning, origin, and history of words.

Of Horses and Poetry
Wild West Words We Use Today, Part 20

This article is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt

Make Tracks

Someone who leaves in a hurry is said to make tracks. This expression originated in America during the nineteenth century. It’s not hard to connect it with footprints, hoofprints, or wagon ruts in mud or dust of the Wild West.

Historical Reference: Make tracks appeared in the “Sam Slick” papers (1796-1865) by Nova Scotian politician, judge, and author Thomas Chandler Haliburton.

Example: If we want to arrive home before sundown, we’d better make tracks.


To walk at an ambling pace is to mosey. Mosey might contain the inference of sneaking away.

Historical Reference: The origin of this slang term, which can be traced from 1826 in America, is uncertain. Theories abound. It might have something to do with Moses’ wanderings in the wilderness. Perhaps it comes from the word ‘moss.’ Some even suggest that ‘mosey’ derived from the Spanish ‘vamos’ (to go) and meant to hurry along. The most likely explanation, in my view, is that mosey derived from a British dialectical term ‘mose about’ (wander witlessly). Whatever the truth of its origins, ‘mosey’ belongs to the Wild West. This quaint word is still used today in an informal, folksy context.

Example: Let's mosey on down to the mailbox.


Ambrose Phillips
Something or someone perceived as sickly-sweet, childish, affected, and insipid is described as namby-pamby. Despite the hundreds of years that have passed since this term emerged, there is no ambiguity about its origin. It is traceable to a single individual.

Historical Reference: In 1714, Ambrose Phillips served as tutor to the grandchildren of George I. In an apparent bid to gain status, Phillips authored sycophantic poems in praise of his charges. Phillips’ poetry relied on reduplications (nonsensical rhyming phrases such as eensy-weensy).

This was a bit too much for other poets of the day to swallow. Henry Carey, John Gay, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift fashioned the nickname, Namby Pamby, for Phillips, using his first name. A mocking poem entitled “Namby Pamby,” credited to Carey saw print in 1725. What a sad footnote! I don’t know about you, but I would rather not go down in history for pandering sappy writing.

Example: Claiming you skipped the zoom meeting because of a bad haircut is a namby-pamby excuse.

Feel Your Oats/Feel One’s Oats

We return to America in the early 1800s for the next term. To feel your oats is to be emboldened, empowered, cocky, and ready for anything. This expression brings to mind a young horse frisking about the pasture, energetic after eating oats.

Historical Reference: This phrase showed up in “Extracts from Diary and Correspondence” by Amos Lawrence in 1833: “We both ‘feel our oats’ and our youth.”

Example: After you feel your oats, there’s no going back to prim and proper decorum.

Which of this month’s words used in the Wild West and today is your favorite? Were there any unfamiliar terms? Can you think of any other probably reduplications? As ever, thanks for reading!

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

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. Note: Hills of Nevermore is now available as an audiobook with the rest of the series to follow.


  1. Would "hickory dickory" qualify as a reduplication? I wonder what was so bad about Mr. Phillips making rhymes in honor of his students? Don't other teachers use creative means even nowadays? Thanks for the post.

    1. You are correct, Connie. Hickory Dickory Dock (or Hickety Dickety Dock for the English) is a reduplication! Mr. Phillips was felt not to be sincere in his praise. His critics felt he used this means for his own advancement. You're welcome. Thanks for saying hello again. :)

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  3. Love The saying Feel Your Oats! I have heard My Mom and Aunts make this comment years ago Thank you for The Post!

    1. It's fun to go down memory lane, isn't it? You're welcome, Sarah. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. these sayings I grew up with on the farm.

  5. I grew up with those sayings..but the one I still use myself to this day is "we're burning daylight"