Saturday, November 20, 2021

What Do Fish, Hiding, and Hunting Have to do With it? (Wild West Sayings We Use Today)

Welcome to a fun adventure into word history. The origin stories of words can be mystifying or enlightening, but they are always intriguing. Ready to explore the past in a often surprising way? All aboard for a journey through time. 

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 29

So, what do fish, hiding, and hunting have to do with the Wild West? Read on and discover how they connect to the current crop of Wild West sayings used today. 


In the 18th century, fishermen harvested millions of scads, silvery fish with deeply-forked tails, that congregated in schools off the coast of Britain. It’s not difficult to imagine how such abundance might have fostered a metaphor. 

‘Scad’ or 'scads' was used in the Wild West, as today, to describe bountiful quantities of an item. The connection to fish seems plausible but is unproven. The origin of the idiom is unknown.

Historical Reference: 
The first print citation for ‘scad’ gave the word as a slang term for ‘dollar’: "This land of our a dinger at nailing the scads" (The American Magazine; 1809). This little ditty meant that America provided abundant opportunities to make money. At that time, scads referred to dollars. By the mid-19th century, scad meant large quantities of anything. It was often used with ‘oodles,’ which means the same thing. This gave rise to the emphatic form: ‘scadoodles.’ (Don't you just love that word?) When describing a grandiose amount, I suppose you had to improvise.

  • We harvested a scad of walnuts.
  • We harvested scads of walnuts.
  • We harvested scads and scads of walnuts.

Make Yourself Scarce

Going from abundance to our next expression may seem dizzying, but let’s take a look at ‘make yourself (myself, oneself) scarce.’ This expression for abandoning, escaping, or avoiding a difficult situation was first noted in 1771 according to Etymology Online. While I couldn’t verify this, I did come up with a quaint quote dated only ten years later.

Historical Reference 
“He thought he should insure their love, to which he had the best possible title, and by those very means he lost it. Be wise, my friend; take warning; make yourself scarce, if you wish that persons of little understanding should know how to prize you" (Private Letter from renowned poet and hymn writer William Cowper to the Reverend John Newton; 1781).


You might want to make yourself scarce until our neighbor calms down a bit.

Scare Up

This phrase describes finding something with perhaps a little difficulty. “Rustle up’ is another way of saying this. The English Oxford Dictionary defines ‘scare up’ as colloquial, which means that if I tried to slip it into one of my manuscripts, it wouldn't make it past my editor. However, i might get away with couching this term in dialogue for a colorful character. A colloquial phrase, if you haven’t guessed, is more appropriately spoken than written.

Scare up originated as a hunting term in 19th-century America. It meant to frighten game out of cover. The figurative nuance naturally arose from the practical meaning.

Historical Reference

The first printed citation for ‘scare up’ as a hunting term is from 1846: “He is also to send us the rattles of the biggest snake ever scared up in ‘Old Norf Caline’” ("Spirit of the Times," a New York sporting periodical).

The phrase is used as an idiom in “Loyalties,” a 1922 play by John Galsworthy: “I can scare up the money for that.”


I’d better scare up some coffee.

Thanks for joining me again! I hope you enjoyed this month’s selection. Tell me, did you guess any of the phrase origins (or likely origins)? Which of them have you heard or used? See you next month for another word adventure.

What’s New with Janalyn Voigt

Work on The Whispering Wind (Montana Gold, book 6) is progressing. As I mentioned last month, I’ve been dealing with distractions lately. Those haven’t let up, a fact that has pros and cons. On the negative side, distractions can steal both my focus and time. They force me, out of self-defense, to improve my concentration and better manage my time. If you also struggle in this area, I can tell you that prayer works wonders.

Here's my brief author bio:

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 and visit the bookstore at

The Promise Tree 

A preacher’s daughter shouldn’t encourage a troublemaker—no matter what her wayward heart desires.

Liberty has always believed she should marry a man of God, but Jake doesn’t qualify. The promises they’d made at age twelve can’t change that. If only Jake would stop pursuing her, she might keep from falling in love with him.

Jake fears he’ll lose Liberty to Beau, the new man in town. He doesn’t trust the smooth-talker—and certainly not with Liberty. Expressing his opinion sounds jealous and pushes Liberty further away. Jake’s efforts to forget the woman he loves lands him in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

A bounty hunter on the trail of a notorious outlaw gallops into town, and Liberty finds herself in unexpected peril. When Jake rides after her, he faces a test of faith. Jake and Liberty must each overcome their own false beliefs. Only then can they experience the truth of God’s redeeming love.

Set during a troubled time in America, the Montana Treasure series explores faith, courage, and love in the Wild West. Read this heartwarming story to affirm your faith in love.


  1. Thanks for posting! I've actually used all of these and I think they are fairly common, or maybe just here in the Northeast. The only origin that surprised me was with "scad"; I had no idea that it started with fish, but I can totally see how that happened. Can you imagine making up a phrase and somehow it becomes common enough to be used in a dictionary? Now, THAT is influence!!!

    1. Hi, Connie! I didn't know the origins of 'scad' either. Yes, inventing a phrase that entered the vernacular would be influence, indeed.

  2. Interesting post as always, Nancy. I love this series. I've used 'scads," but didn't know the origin. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Linda. I'm so glad you are enjoying my series. 'Scads' seems to have surprised us all.