|Women with Bicycles, 1890|
Some Old West words and phrases represented modifications to the meaning of existing terms. Others arose from mispronunciation. Quite a few someone simply made up. Many remain in use today, though sometimes only in regional dialect.
In honor of Women’s History Month, here are some of the more colorful Wild West words related to women. All entered the vernacular during the 19th Century.
|Ann Elizabeth Clifton,|
Call girl: prostitute who makes appointments by phone; arose c. 1900. To call someone, meaning to use a phone for conversation, arose in 1889 along with the telephone.
Catty: devious and spiteful. ca. 1886 from the previous “cattish.” The meaning “pertaining to cats” dates to 1902.
Cute: pretty, 1834 from American English student slang. Previously (1731), as a shorted form of acute, the word meant “clever.”
|Mary Elizabeth Browser, Union|
spy while servant to Confederate
President Jefferson Davis
Fancy woman: high-dollar whore or a kept woman.
Fast trick: loose woman.
Feathered out: dressed up.
Filly: a young, unmarried woman (literally, a young mare).
Frump, frumpy: cross, unstylish person; sour-looking, unfashionable. The noun arose ca. 1817, possibly imitative of a derisive snort. The adverb followed ca. 1825. The slang etymology is a bit obscure, although earlier uses of the noun frump meant “bad temper” (1660s) and “cross-tempered” (1746), both of which may have derived from the verb frump, which in the 1550s meant “to mock or browbeat.” All senses may have descended from the late-14th-century verb frumple, “to wrinkle; crumple.”
|Ann Eliza Young,|
Brigham Young's 19th
wife, divorced him.
Gyp: female dog; a more polite form of “bitch.”
High-strung: temperamental, excitable, nervous; ca. 1848. Evidently based on earlier (1748) musical term referring to stringed instruments.
Hot flashes: in the menopausal sense, attested from 1887.
Hysteria: mental disorder characterized primarily by volatile emotions and overdramatic or attention-seeking behavior. When the word arose in 1801 (based on the Latin medical term hysteric), it was applied solely to women and often resulted in their confinement in an asylum. In 1866, clitoridectomy was proposed as a cure.
|Working girl of the|
Old West, late 1800s
Soiled dove: prostitute; generally considered the kindest of such terms. Probably a conflation of the 13th Century definition of “soil” (to defile or pollute with sin) and the Christian use of “dove” to indicate gentleness or deliverance.
Sporting house: brothel.
Sporting ladies/sporting women: prostitutes.
Vaulting house: brothel. Conflation of “vault,” meaning a vigorous leap (mid-15th Century) and “house.”