of the Gold Rush on American English
I Hear America Talking:
An Illustrated Treasury of American Words and Phrases
(Flexner) (pp. 174-79) gives a number of words and phrases that are
related to the Gold Rush in the American West (1849 and later).
Which some of these were mere "flash in the pans" (a gold rush
term), others have "panned out" (another Gold Rush term) in American English.
It is strange
that the term gold rush itself doesn't really occur until 1900
1869, OED 1893, COHA
doesn't really become common until the early 1900s -- two generations
after the 49ers. Maybe just like the term
Depression, it takes several decades of reflection and
writing about something before it achieves critical mass.
terms forty-niner (COHA,
gold fever (COHA,
and prospector (GB
1835, OED 1846, COHA
don't become common until about a generation after the fact, nor
the term tenderfoot (COHA,
GB), which referred to a newcomer to life in the West
pan (v) for
GB). I would have guessed that this would have been common
back in the 1800s, but it doesn't occur until about 1900, and
then doesn't really increase much until about the 1940s.
do increase steadily in the 1800s (and beyond), especially in
the 1850s, during the Gold Rush and after California had become
a state. The same is true with
San Francisco (COHA,
Gold mine (COHA,
does increase steadily through about 1900, which does make
sense, since people were mining through the West (Colorado,
Alaska, etc) up until that time.
refers to the tiny bits of gold that everyone was looking for.
It does occur starting in the early 1850s and increases steadily
Maybe the most
interesting aspect of words and phrases relating to the Gold Rush
are those which have taken on metaphorical, figurative meaning since
that time. Some aren't found when/where we'd expect in COHA, while
others are. The more problematic ones are:
mentioned that prospect (COHA,
may have increased due to the Gold Rush, but COHA and Google
Books don't show
this to be the case. It has had a slow but steady decline since
the early 1800s. In addition, the
used with prospect don't really reflect an influence
of the Gold Rush.
(from Spanish, referring to finding lots of gold) doesn't
increase much at all at the time of the Gold Rush
claim (COHA) isn't found until about 1900, and then increases
through the current time.
Words and phrases
with a bit more evidence in COHA:
pay dirt (COHA,
i.e. "dirt that has gold in it" is found for the first time in
1853, and then is sporadic throughout the 1800s, but really only
increases (with its use mainly in the metaphorical sense) in the
GB): didn't occur until the
1860s/1870s, then highest use
1920s-1970s, and decrease since then
does last, then (just like gold) it
pans out (COHA,
There are no occurrences in COHA before the 1870s, but it seems to be
increasing steadily over time.
Words and phrases
with the best evidence in COHA:
Flash in the
pan (COHA) means "something that temporarily looks promising", but
(like fools' gold) doesn't really last. In COHA, this actually
predates the gold rush, but does increase a lot in the 1840s.
lode (COHA) "a
rich vein of ore". Although the word lode doesn't really
increase much in frequency in the 1800s, the
with lode from the 1840s-1900s do reflect the mining
sense: Comstock, petered (out), famous,
silver, struck, mine, richest, and gold. It is also
interesting that the figurative use of mother lode (e.g. 1988
Lee Iacocca is a veritable mother lode of charming
self-contradiction) doesn't become common until well into
strike it rich (COHA):
actually pre-dates the Gold Rush (1834: a great rush to the
new fields ... who expected to strike it rich with less labor
and expense, but no reference here to finding gold), but does
increase a lot in the 1800s, when people were striking it rich
in Colorado and Nevada.