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Vernacular

Posted by Richard Monson on January 14, 2013 at 12:45 PM

I came across this and found it interesting.

CIVIL WAR ERA SLANG AND TERMSA Writer's Guide for the American Civil war

The terms and phrases I have gathered here are found all over the internet, thus I cannot claim any ownership or even any particular wit for finding them. Therefore, I am simply offering this compilation as a complement to my Old West Slang page and as a small help to writers and readers who may drop by.

Absquatulate - to take leave, to disappear

Acknowledge the Corn - to admit the truth, to confess a lie, or acknowledge an obvious personal shortcoming

Arkansas Toothpick - a long, sharp knife

A.W.O.L. - Absent With Out Leave

Bad Egg - bad person, good for nothing

Balderdash - nonsense

Bark Juice, Red Eye, O Be Joyful - liquor

Beat the Dutch - if that don't beat all

Bluff - trick or deceive

Bragg's Body Guard - lice

Been Through the Mill - been through a lot, seen it all

Bellyache - complain

Big Bugs - big wigs, important people

Bivouac - to camp without formal shelter or in temporary circumstances

Blowhard - braggart, bully

Blue Mass - refers to men on sick call; named after blue pill.

Bread Bag - haversack

Bread Basket - stomach

Bully - exclamation meaning, &'terrific!' or 'hurrah!'Bully for You - good for you

Bummer – malingerer, someone who deliberately lags behind to forage or steal on his own shrift Bummer's Cap - regulation army cap with a high/deep crown, so-called because it could be filled with gathered foodstuffs

Bust Head / Pop Skull - cheap whiskey

Camp canard - tall tale circulating around camp as gossip

Cashier - to dismiss from the army dishonorably

Chief Cook and Bottle Washer - person in charge, or someone who can do anything

Chicken Guts - gold braid used to denote officer ranks

Company Q - fictitious unit designation for the sick list Conniption

Fit - hysterics, temper tantrum

Contraband - escaped slaves who sought refuge behind Union lines

Copperhead - Northern person with Southern, anti-Union sympathies

Cracker Line - supply line for troops on the move

Deadbeat - useless person, malingerer

Desecrated Vegetables - Union, dehydrated (desiccated) vegetables formed into yellowish squares

Dog Robber - soldier detailed from the ranks to act as cook

Dog Collar - cravat issued with uniforms, usually discarded Duds - clothing

Embalmed Beef - canned meat

Essence of Coffee - early instant coffee, found in paste form

Forage - to hunt for food, live off the land; also came to mean plundering enemy property for sustenance

Fit as a fiddle - in good shape

Fit to be tied - angry

Forty Dead Men - a full cartridge box, which usually held fortyrounds

French Leave - to go absent without leave

Fresh Fish - new recruits

Go Boil Your Shirt - take a hike, get lost, bug off

Grab a Root - eat a meal, especially a potato

Greenbacks - money

Grey Backs - lice, also derogatory term for Confederate soldiers

Grit - courage, toughness

Goobers - peanuts

Hanker - a strong wish or want

Hard Case - tough guy

Hard Knocks - hard times, ill use

Hardtack - unleavened bread in the form of ¼ inch thick crackers issued by the army

Haversack - canvas bag about one foot square, which was slung over the shoulder and used to carry a soldier's rations when on the march

High-falutin - highbrow, fancy

Horse Sense - common sense, good judgement

Hospital Rat - someone who fakes illness to get out of duty

Housewife - sewing kit

Huffy, In a Huff - angry, irritated

Humbug - nonsense, a sham, a hoax

Hunkey Dorey - very good, all is well

Jailbird - criminal

Jawing - talking

John Barleycorn - beer

Jonah - someone who is or brings bad luck

Knock into a Cocked Hat - to knock someone senseless or thoroughly shock him

Let 'er Rip - let it happen, bring it on

Let Drive - go ahead, do it

Likely - serviceable, able-bodied

Light Out - leave in haste

Long Sweetening - molasses

Lucifers - matches

Muggins - a scoundrel

Mule - meat, especially if of dubious quality

Mustered Out – wry term meaning killed in action

No Account - worthless

Not By a Jug Full - not by any means, no way

On His Own Hook - on one's own shrift, without orders

Opening the Ball - starting the battle

Opine - be of the opinion

Peacock About - strut around

Peaked - pronounced peak-ed; weak or sickly

Pie Eater - country boy, a rustic

Pig Sticker - knife or bayonet

Picket - sentries posted around a camp or bivouac to guard approaches

Play Old Soldier - pretend sickness to avoid combat

Played Out - worn out, exhausted

Pumpkin Rinds - gold lieutenant's bars

Quartermaster Hunter - shot or shell that goes long over the lines and into the rear.

Quick Step, Flux - diarrhea

Robber's Row - the place where sutlers set up to do business

Row - a fight

Salt Horse - salted meat

Sardine Box - cap box

Sawbones - surgeon

Scarce as Hen's Teeth - exceedingly rare or hard to find

Secesh - derogatory term for Confederates and Southerners:secessionists

See The Elephant - experience combat or other worldly events

Shakes - malaria

Shanks Mare - on foot

Sheet Iron Crackers - hard tack

Shoddy - an inferior weave of wool used to make uniforms early in the war; later came to mean any clothing or equipment of substandard quality

Sing Out - call out, yell

Skedaddle - run away, escape

Slouch Hat - a wide-brimmed felt hat

Snug as a Bug - very comfortable

Somebody's Darling - comment when observing a dead soldier

Sound on the Goose -Sparking - courting a girl

Spondulix - money

Sunday Soldiers / Parlor Soldiers - derogatory terms for unsuitable soldiers

Take an Image - have a photograph taken

Tennessee or Virginia Quick Step - diarrhea

Tight - drunk

Toe the Mark - do as told, follow orders

Top Rail - first class, top quality

Traps - equipment, belongings

Tuckered Out - exhausted

Uppity - arrogantVidette - a sentry same as Picket but usually on horseback

Wallpapered - drunk

Whipped - beaten

Wrathy - angry

Zu Zu - Zouaves, soldiers whose units wore colorful uniforms in a flamboyant French style with baggy trousers, known for bravery and valor

Categories: General Information

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1 Comment

Reply Jay
1:36 AM on February 14, 2013 
A note on the word "greenbacks" which is simply, & inadequately, defined as "money." Specifically, it is US paper currency. It does not include coin or Confederate paper currency which "money" also includes.
"Shin plaster" Another word for money not included in this list- It was applied to low denomination paper currency, generally in amounts under a dollar. It could also be applied to an IOU, both pieces being generally considered as essentially worthless.
Another source for period speech are letters or Journals written at the time. Chaplain Davis Book describing his time with the 4th Texas is an example of the oratory that might have been heard or read.
Other sources are "Tyler to Sharpsburg"; The War Letters of Robert H. & William H. Gaston- Co.H, 1st Texas Infantry, Hood's Brig. These are especially touching for our family since we live only about 40 miles from Tyler Texas. These were published by WM Morrison, Waco, Texas-1960.
One more source is a manuscript written well after the war but the grammar was left alone. It is "History of Captain Benton's Company, Hood's Texas Brigade 1861-65 by O T Hanks. This printing was limited to 300 copies- it is not a big 'book' by any means but, might be a little pricey but, being only 45 pages, maybe not. As far as "histories" go, it's more correctly called a collection of anecdotes but many are of interest to the reenactors.

I just thought these notes might be of interest.
Jay