Stogie & Slewfoot

BTW, Windows 95 is alive and well around here.

Dear Word Detective: We were talking words with our friends and came up with two puzzlers. “Stogie” — is it related to Conestoga, and, if so, how? The other is “slue (slew) foot.” I feel it has a bit of a negative connotation, but I’d like your take on both these. — Charlie.

It must be nice to live where people talk about words. Our neighbors, having determined years ago that I apparently just don’t care about sports, hunting, home renovation or the mating habits of all the other neighbors, now simply nod and smile when we meet in the Post Office. But they do call me when their computers malfunction, so I guess I belong here after all.

Your hunch about “stogie” (or “stogy”) being related to Conestoga is right on the mark. Conestoga is the name of a township in central Pennsylvania, taken from the name of a local Indian tribe, and the Conestoga wagon, originally built in that region and also called a “covered wagon,” was widely used for westward migration in the 18th and 19th centuries. If you’ve ever seen a wagon train crossing the prairie in a Hollywood western, you’ve seen replicas of Conestoga wagons.

A large wagon capable of carrying several tons of cargo, the Conestoga was also the mainstay of commercial transport across the Appalachians until the advent of the railroads, and “stoga” drivers were the truckers of their day. Along with “Conestoga” becoming a colloquial term for the large breed of horse used to pull the wagons, “stoga” came, by the late 19th century, to mean the kind of heavy boots worn by the drivers. By the early 20th century, “stogy” was being used for the long, thin cigars apparently favored by the “stoga” drivers. Today, however, we use “stogy” to mean any sort of inexpensive cigar.

A person who is “slew-footed” walks with their feet turned outward. The source of the word “slew” is, unfortunately, a complete mystery. We do know that “slew” first appeared in English as a nautical term in the 18th century, in the spelling “slue” (which is still common), meaning “to swing an object around on its axis without shifting its position,” as a cannon might be “slewed” to track a target. Over the years, “slew” has also become slang, primarily in Australia and New Zealand, for becoming disoriented in the wilderness (“We separated, followin’ tracks, and I managed to get slewed,” 1929) as well as for “to trick or deceive.” “Slewed” has also been, since the 18th century, slang for “drunk.”

Since a “slewfoot” posture is generally considered a bit unstable, “slewfoot” carries the secondary connotation of “a clumsy person,” usually with overtones of slow-wittedness and fecklessness (“She is hoping that her galloping, slue-foot, light-brown, lazy husband … will soon find a job,” 1945).

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