Below are a few selected Americanisms that you might find useful in writing your historicals or your historical research. These come from Americanisms Old & New ©1889
Barfoot.—A Western expression. To take tea or any kind of food barfoot (barefooted) is to take the former without sugar or milk, or the latter without condiments, or as would be said, "fixin's" of any kind. James Russell Lowell has observed that a similar phrase occurs in the old English Coventry plays.
Avoid sugar_as much as conveniently possible, and drink sparingly. Never touch coffee unless you like it Barefoot, that is, without sugar or milk.—Chicago Herald,
Beans.—To Know Beans, that is, to be well informed. The phrase is incorporated into many expressions in a very strange way.
The pudding was pronounced a success by each member of the assembled family, including a dainty Boston girl who, of course, Knows Beans.—Portland Transcript, March 7, 1888.
Decoration Day.—A public holiday, set apart for the decoration of the graves of those who fell in the Civil War; very similar to the jour des morts of the French. Also called Memorial Day. It occurs generally towards the end of May, and is observed by North and South alike.
We Deck their graves alike to-day
With blossoms fresh and fair,
And on the grassy mounds of clay
We lay the fiow'rs with care.
—T. N. Mitchell's We Deck Their Graves
Ding-Bat.—This word seems to be applied to anything that can be thrown with force or dashed violently at another object, from a cannon-ball to the rough's traditional 'arf brick, and from a piece of money to a log of wood. From the Icelandic dengia, to beat.
Humphrey (Cant).—A coat with false pockets; the better to facilitate thieving operations.
Pool Issues, To.—To join forces; to act in unison. Now common on both sides of the Atlantic, but while in England its use is generally confined to large undertakings, in America it is employed colloquially by everybody. Even a shoeblack is said to have pooled issues with a poodle trained to rub against and soil the footgear of pedestrians in order to bring custom to its owner.
An undertaker and a grave-digger in Hungary Pooled their Issues and poisened off fourteen people before their plan was discovered. They were doing so much business that the jealousy of others was aroused, and a watch set upon them.—Detroit Free Press, 1888.
Portage.—A strip of land between water-ways over which boats and impedimenta are carried.
We came to a promontory, and the Indian ran the canoe ashore. I could not see why he did this, unless he expected to find seal in the woods. He said: 'portage. Heap good noodi-quoddy.' To have such a sentence as that fired at a man as he enters the woods with two strange Indians is not soothing. He loaded the canoe on the shoulders of the squaw, strapped the gun to her back, and gave her the paddles to carry. He bore his share of the heat and burden of the day by carrying the harpoon, which weighed about a pound and a half. Now I knew why he brought his wife with him. We went up a hill and through woods for half a mile, pushing through dense undergrowth in some places and over fallen trees and rocks in others. We emerged from this on to the beach. We had crossed the land end of the promontory to save paddling around a distance of about six miles.—J. C. Knox's Devil of a Trip.
The word, of French derivation, has now secured a permanent place in the language—being used inter-changeably with Carry (q.v.),
its equivalent. To Portage.
—To carry or convey boats and outfit overland.
We Portaged the boats around the falls the next day, getting them out of the water and upon wagons by dint of much tugging and lifting, with the assistance of the entire population. By the time we had travelled twelve miles of rolling country and had gotten the wagons down the precipitous banks of a coiiIe" leading to the river and launched the boats it was 2 o'clock, and we
were still twenty-four miles from Benton.— Century Magazine, 1887,
Potato.—The variety of this tuber, known in England simply as potato, is called the Irish Potato in America to distinguish it from the Sweet Potato (Batata edulis) which is indigenous to Carolina and the Southern States generally. Hence the latter is also called the CaroLina Potato.
Prairie Bitters. — A beverage compounded of buffalo gall and water, in the proportion of a quarter of a gill to a pint. It is a mixture the medicinal virtue of which was thought to have been in an exact
ratio to its filthy taste.
—A skin eruption caused by dust in hot weather.
—At certain seasons of the year, the turf of the Western prairies is strewn with flowers of a myriad varieties, amongst which a kind of rose is very noticeable.
The early rides in the spring mornings have a charm all their own, for they are taken when, for the one and only time during the year, the same brown landscape of these high plains turns to a vivid green, as the new grass sprouts and the trees and bushes thrust forth the young leaves; and at dawn, with the dew glittering everywhere, all things show at their best and freshest. The flowers are out, and a man may gallop for miles at a stretch with his horse's hoofs sinking at every stride into the carpet of Prairie Roses, whose short stalks lift the beautiful blossoms but a few inches from the ground.—Century Magazine, 1887.
Prawchey.—In New York, a gossip; the Scotch "clack"; of Dutch origin.
Primpy.—A woman is said to be primpy when given to the adornment of her person by dress, cosmetics, and other means known only to those admitted into the feminine sanctum sanctorum.
Smart.— This adjective, like cunning, clever, and a few others, bears a different interpretation across the water to that which obtains in England. A smart man in America is quick, shrewd, and intelligent, whereas in England, apart from its application to dress, smart is used in the sense of superficial showiness of character, or ability, combined with more or less wit. In the West smartness would enable a thief to steal a log with a watchman asleep on the bark. Perhaps the most distinctive American usage is right smart, used superlatively in various connections.
Smudge.—A smothered fire used by backwoodsmen for the purpose of keeping off flies and mosquitoes. Gray, an old English writer, employs smudge in a somewhat similar sense.