Kentucky in the Civil War

Slang Vocabulary

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

  1. chief cook and bottle washer -- person capable of doing many things
  2. sheet-iron crackers -- hardtack
  3. sardine box -- cap box
  4. bread basket -- stomach
  5. greenbacks -- money
  6. graybacks -- Southern soldiers; lice
  7. Arkansas toothpick -- large knife
  8. pepperbox -- pistol
  9. Zu-Zu -- Zuoave soldier
  10. fit to be tied -- angry
  11. has horse sense -- is smart or on the ball
  12. top rail #1 -- first class
  13. hunkey dorey -- great!
  14. greenhorn, bugger, skunk -- officer
  15. snug as a bug -- comfortable, cozy
  16. sawbones -- surgeon
  17. skedaddle -- run, scatter
  18. hornets -- bullets
  19. bully -- hurrah! yeah!
  20. possum -- a buddy or pal
  21. blowhard -- big shot
  22. fit as a fiddle -- in good shape, healthy
  23. uppity -- conceited
  24. scarce as hen's teeth -- rare
  25. grab a root -- have dinner; eat a potato
  26. tight, wallpapered -- drunk
  27. bark juice, tar water -- liquor
  28. nokum stiff, joy juice -- liquor
  29. hard case -- tough person
  30. bluff -- cheater
  31. jailbird -- criminal
  32. hard knocks -- beaten up
  33. been through the mill -- done a lot
  34. quick-step -- diarrhea
  35. played out -- worn out
  36. toeing the mark -- doing the job
  37. Jonah -- bad luck
  38. goobers -- peanuts
  39. Sunday soldiers, kid glove boys, parlor soldiers -- insulting words for soldiers
  40. fresh fish -- raw recruits
  41. whipped -- beaten
Sources: The Life of Johnny Reb and The Life of Billy Yank by Bell Irwin Wiley
courtesy of the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior

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