This week’s adventure takes us into the old west. So, saddle up, strap on your six-shooter and we’ll ride off into the desert to explore the impact of the American west on the language we use today. Well, perhaps it would be more correct to suggest that it was the movies depicting the culture of the American west that impacted our language.
Sidekick: Last week, I heard a radio commercial where one person referred to the other as his trusty sidekick. I was pretty certain I knew what a sidekick was, a faithful companion, a partner in the adventures of life on the trail and all that, but one who plays second-fiddle to the hero character – the alpha male in the relationship. I thought of those famous duos, Wild Bill Hickock and his trusty sidekick, Jingles (I am dating myself), The Lone Ranger with Tonto by his side (thoroughly politically incorrect in this day and age), Matt Dillon’s trusty friend Chester of Gunsmoke, Roy Rogers and Pat Brady. But it goes way beyond cowboy land. There is Batman and Robin, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and on it goes. I understand the “side” part, but what does the “kick” have to do with it, and how did this word become associated with partners in adventure?
Research shows the word actually comes from the criminal underworld about 1900 and referred to an accomplice or partner in crime. The slang used by pickpockets indicates a “kick” refers to pants pockets, later “kick” became slang for a roll of paper money. The pockets in a man’s pants became known as side-kicks. These pockets are most difficult to pick or plunder, so that’s where the careful crafty criminals would keep their cash stashed. The connection to partners seems vague but the term appears to have evolved to mean criminal partners, as inseparable as the two pants pockets. Hmmmm. I kind of prefer the way the lesser partner, or sidekick, is generally portrayed as the bumbler or foil at the hero’s side, providing comic relief. Thus the hero can always look to his trusty companion to get a kick out of the adventures they’ve been through. It’s not scientific but I like it every bit as much as Oliver who has to “pick a pocket or two” as the song lyric goes!
10 Gallon hat: The wide-brimmed cowboy hat was thought to refer to how much water could be carried in it. The Stetson Company once depicted a cowpoke giving his weary horse a drink from his versatile hat. Only problem is, there wasn’t a hat made that could hold more than a quart or two (pre-metric) of fluid. Besides, 10 gallons weighs about 80 pounds. Now that’s a hat! Or maybe a tent! The term 10 gallon hat is more likely a corruption of a Spanish word for braided hatbands worn by Mexican cowboys. The hatband was called a galon and a ten galon sombrero was a hat that could accommodate ten such bands. Now here’s the let-down. Cowboy hats weren’t even the favourite hats of early buckeroos. Seems top hats and bowlers were more preferred. It’s more likely that 100 years of cowboy movies are actually responsible for much or our view of the old west. Now doesn’t that flatten your fedora, stunt your Stetson, or trample your Tilley! Wait a minute – they hadn’t invented the Tilley, you might say, untilley the next century!
I am pleased to say that at least there is no myth about the hard working cow-punchers (herders of the hooves) who spent their very difficult days in the saddle wrangling and roping cattle for branding before herding them off over impossible distances to get them to market. Yep! Cowhand’s the name, cowpunching’s the game – and that’s no bull, Pardner!