Not long after the Coen brothers’ True Grit arrived in theaters, CollegeHumor rolled out a minute-long video that phonetically subtitled some of Jeff Bridges’s lines. The joke was inevitable; as the drawling, often drunk marshal Rooster Cogburn, a role that earned him an Oscar nomination, Bridges speaks a dialect that’s almost, but not quite, entirely unlike English.
Then again, True Grit’s dialogue, much of it drawn from Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, is a language all its own, a combination of vintage slang, frontier terms and the odd bit of Latin that can seem opaque even with accurate closed captioning. Here’s a short vocabulary guide to accompany the film’s release on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday 7.
jakes A term for an outhouse that dates back to Shakespeare—though jakes don’t carry with them any guarantee of privacy from relentless teenage would-be employers.
Rooster: The jakes is occupied. And will be for some time.
sand Gumption, nerve. In the still somewhat Wild West, a certain abrasive quality (see also: grit) can work to one’s benefit.
Col. G. Stonehill (Dakin Matthews): I admire your sand, but I believe you will find that I am not liable for such claims.
king bolt A vertical bolt intended to connect a wagon’s tongue to its front axle, though it can also serve as a makeshift weapon that may or may not merit responding with deadly force.
Rooster: Clete was selling ardent spirits to the Cherokee. He come at me with a king bolt.
corn nubbin An underdeveloped ear of corn, far smaller than a Colt Dragoon.
Rooster: Why, you’re no bigger than a corn nubbin, what’re you doing with a pistol like that?
brushpopper A scrubland cowboy, which doesn’t sound like such a bad thing unless what you prefer to be called is a Texas Ranger.
Rooster: That will be the biggest mistake you ever made, you Texas brushpopper.
shaggies Buffalo, which by 1880, when the story is set, had been commercially hunted almost to extinction.
Rooster: Well sir, the big shaggies is about all gone. It is a damned shame.
sofky A Creek stew made of hominy that apparently works just as well for an outlaw’s breakfast as his supper, and can be shared among friends or unexpected visitors.
Moon (Domhnall Gleeson): Sofky always cooks up bigger than you think.
malum in se An act that is wrong by nature, as opposed to merely against the law. The term, as Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) helpfully points out, is Latin.
LaBoeuf (Matt Damon): You could argue that the shooting of the dog was merely an instance of malum prohibitum, but the shooting of a senator is indubitably an instance of malum in se.
dogfall An even match or a draw.
Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper): Do you think one on four is a dogfall?
night hoss No one seems to know the nature of the ailment that finally claims the aged Cogburn, possibly not even the man himself, who we’re told described it with a term that suggests a horse riding after dark. Given his lifestyle, his girth and his incredible rapport with the bottle, one imagines there were quite a few issues with his health.
Cole Younger (Don Pirl): Reuben had a complaint, what he referred to as “night hoss,” and I believe the warm weather was too much for him.