Cheney Free Press -


Facts about life and language in the 1800s

Of Cabbages and Kings


I’ve been looking through an old book. The book isn’t old but most of the words in it are. It’s titled “Everyday Life In The 1800s.” There must be some things my ancestors said in there somewhere. Not going back too far I remember one of my grandmothers would say, “Pershaw!” Or “Mercy me” I think the first one meant “I don’t believe you” and the second one meant “Mercy me, get that dog out of here!” My other grandmother often said “I’m gonna lie down for twenty winks.” That meant she intended to have a short nap.

The 1800s book has pictures of families and buggies and men working on the first railroad tracks that chugged across the plains. There are women in long dresses and billowing sleeves. They are very proper and sedate. I turn on my TV and stare at the young lady telling the news. I feel such pity for her, sitting there with a skirt that’s four sizes too short. She doesn’t seem to realize that the collar of her dress (what collar?} is hanging way too low for a lady. Will she catch it? Is it slipping? I see her reach to tug a bit at her skirt. It’s no use. There’s nothing left to tug.

These women telling the news aren’t as bad off as a young lady in the here and now who appears many times before thousands but remains anonymous on this page. She doesn’t seem to have a stitch of clothing to wear. Can’t her daddy get a job somewhere to provide for her? Maybe we all ought to clean our closets and find something for her.

That reminds me, page 23 of my 1800s book tells of dry goods and then it explains that means cloth material or clothing.

Browsing along, I turn a page and “deadhead” hits me in the face. No, it doesn’t mean a dead person, it is talking about a non-paying passenger on the train in the 1800s.

Speaking of a non-paying person I am reminded of flowers in the fall when they begin to droop. As good caregivers of gardens we’re supposed to pick off the blossoms that have wilted (dead head them) and save the watering for those still thriving. “Yes, Ma’am, I’ll do it promptly.”

I turn a page and am confronted with “pants and trousers”. Did you know that in the 1800s a person is not expected to say these words aloud? You may say “inexpressibles, unmentionables, or my sit-down upons!” Dear me, how dignified can we get?

Lest I get “hornswaggled” (cheated) by that person who is supposed to be deadheading the flowers I’d better gather my “sit down upons”, check up on that person, and then offer a sweater to our anonymous young lady. She may be trembling and shivering in the corner of a stage where she is about to perform.

I leave you with a typical gathering of 1843 gossips: “She is not very chirk, but more chirkier than she had been; and all our folks appear more chirkier than they really feel, in order to chirk her up.”

As to you, dear reader, “Ef there’s a mortal thing I can do to help ye or chirk ye up, I want to do it right off. Hey! Why are you running away?”

Luella Dow is a Cheney-area author. She can be reached at


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