Civil War-era slang

Rohit Khare (
Fri, 05 Sep 1997 14:30:03 -0400

I'm not sure of the etymological accuracy of the dating, but I was
surprised to find a lot of evidence which predates the phrase I *thought*
Feynman invented: "chief chemist, cook, and bottle-washer"... RK


What if you could talk to someone who lived at the time of the Civil War?
You would probably have a hard time understanding some of the things they
said. Below is a list of words and phrases used during the Civil War. The
words in parentheses is the meaning. Where do the terms come from? Which
ones are still in use? What new words do we use today that mean the same

1. Chief cook and bottle washer (the boss, person capable of doing many

2. Sheet iron crackers (hardtack)

3. sardine box (cap box)

4. bread basket (stomach)

5. greenbacks (Union paper currency)

6. graybacks (Southern soldiers, lice)

7. Arkansas toothpick (large knife)

8. pepperbox (multi barreled pistol)

9. Zu - Zu (Zuoave soldier)

10. fit to be tied (angry)

11. horse sense (common sense)

12. top rail #1 (the best, first class)

13. hunkey dorey (O.K. or good)

14. greenhorn, bugger, skunk (officers)

15. snug as a bug (comfortable, cozy)

16. sawbones (surgeon)

17. skedaddle (run, scatter, retreat)

18. hornets (bullets)

19. bully (hurrah! yeah!)

20. possum (a buddy)

21. blowhard (braggart)

22. fit as a fiddle (in good shape, healthy)

23. Uppity (conceited)

24. scarce as hen's teeth (rare or scarce)

25. grab a root (have dinner, potato)

26. tight, wallpapered (intoxicated)

27. shine, bark juice, tar water (liquor)

28. nokum stiff, joy juice (liquor)

29. hard case (tough)

30. bluff (cheater)

31. jailbird (criminal)

32. hard knocks (beaten up)

33. been through the mill (endured a lot)

34. screamers, quick-step (diarrhea)

35. played out (worn out)

36. toeing the mark (obeying orders)

37. Jonah (someone thought to bring bad luck)

38. goobers (peanuts)

39. Sunday soldiers, kid glove boys, parlor soldiers (insulting words for

40. fresh fish (raw recruits)

41. whipped (beaten)

*Many of these terms come from a project a student completed for extra

Rohit Khare /// MCI Internet Architecture (BOS) ///
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