Slang City Mail

Click here to get this free weekly newsletter delivered to your e-mailbox! Want to see more? Go back to All the Words main page.

March 20, 2008

Slang of the Week: cockroach killers (noun phrase)
pointy-toed cowboy boots

Elvira may have seemed helpless to the mugger who tried to steal her purse, but he hadn’t counted on the effect her cockroach killers would have on his shins.

Celebrity quote:
“It’s fascinating to remember that at this time, leisure suites and Nudie suits were both in vogue. Massive round-toed clodhoppers and cockroach killers were equally acceptable. ”
—Tyler Beard in One Hundred Years of Western Wear

Although I had a pair of excruciatingly painful Frye cockroach-killers in the early eighties—the time frame Beard is writing about—I first learned this term from my Spanish-speaking students in the 1990s. The etymology should be obvious, but for those of you who live in a place that has neither cockroaches nor corners (an igloo at the North Pole, perhaps?) the term refers to ease of insect extermination in tight spaces afforded by the pointy toes.

Similarly pointed shoes worn by British teens in the 1950s and 60s were called winkle pickers. This name also came from a potential function of the shoe; winkles are a kind of edible snail that can be removed from the shell with a pointed object.

The other kind of boots Beard mentions, clodhoppers, get their name from the clods of earth (among other substances) that field laborers would hop over during a day’s work. When used about a person, it means someone who is clumsy and countrified.

By the way, a Nudie suit is not the same as a “birthday suit” (nude). Designer Nudie Cohn was the original “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and his highly decorated western clothing was worn by stars including Roy Rogers, Glenn Campbell, Elvis Presley and Cher. Despite the rodeo look, his design studio, called Nudie’s of Hollywood was based closer to Rodeo Drive.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s picks: The Perfect Insult for Every Occasion, by Slang City Mail author A. C. Kemp. And for slang related to this newsletter, take a look at Ramon Adam’s book Cowboy Lingo.