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Old West Cowboy Speak
Talk Like a Cowboy in One Easy Lesson…
You got the boots. You got the hat. You’re working on that smooth swagger. Time to talk the talk—Old West style! Have fun with this small sampling of folksy and gritty Wild West cowboy phrases. Don’t just sit there
barkin’ at a knot
get a wiggle on
(hurry up) and start reading now!
Sheriff Wilson stomped into the jail
all horns and rattles
when he heard tell the bank robber was
among the willows
, in another county,
above his reach
Above my bend
– Beyond my power, out of reach
– A spoilsport, a killjoy, a real wet blanket, a downer. You get the picture.
A lick and a promise
– To do a shoddy, careless job
All hands and the cook
– You’d holler this when you need every man and woman available to deal with a situation. Similar to “All hands on deck.”
All horns and rattles
– A temper tantrum, a hissy fit
Among the willows
– Escaping or dodging the law
Martha broke out the
for Mr. Mortimer, a fancy gentleman and potential suiter who appeared rag proper, but was quite the
, yammerin’ his
– Got guests coming for supper? Break out the good china.
– A sales pitch or gross exaggeration
– One’s mouth
– Weak coffee…definitely not espresso!
– An annoying person who talks non-stop. You might want to tell them to “Hobble your lip!”
– May they rest in peace. This is a cemetery.
– Confused, baffled, deceived. Though the image of buffalo is one of power and strength, it’s possible that observing captured buffalo reacting in a confused fashion gave birth to this interpretation, hence the word, “buffaloed.”
– One of many words describing a cowboy
– A con man, a phrase still in use today
Burn the breeze
– Ride flat out, at full speed
Leonard was all done up in his finest
, ready to
cut a rusty
, but he didn’t make the impression he intended, as his horse shied, and Leonard promptly
– Before there was online dating…A mail-order bride
– The name given to describe a female cattle rustler, based on a real person, and a controversial accusation. In 1889, Ella Watson was suspected of cattle rustling. On July 20, a vigilante mob abducted her and her husband and lynched them for the alleged crime. Ella became the only woman ever hanged in Wyoming. The phrase “Cattle Kate” stuck, because a reporter incorrectly identified Ella as Kate Maxwell, a local prostitute, calling her Cattle Kate.
– Get tossed off a horse. Nothing more humiliating or ouchy than an involuntary dismount!
– Not a wardrobe item associated with cowboys riding the range! So, when a ranch hand had to wear a necktie, he probably felt like he was being strangled!
Clean his plow
– Get beat up in a fight
– Lies, tall tales
Cut a rusty
– Ah, love…to go a courtin’
didn’t have a tail feather left
, but he
didn’t care a continental
. He had his
and the wide open plains.
Didn’t have a tail feather left
– Flat broke, bankrupt
Don’t care a continental
– Alternate: Don’t give a continental. To be disinterested, to not give a darn.
Down to the blanket
broke, but soon won’t have a tail feather left!
Dragging her rope
– When a woman is out to snag herself a husband
– A cowboy’s sleeping bag
– Tedious, boring
When Horace came home jingled and saw Esther by the
, he took cover because he knew the
were about to zit by his head.
– When one is “by the ears,” they’re in a fight or are arguing.
– Tableware, cutlery, knives, forks, spoons, etc.
– A gun, a pistol
– Something that comes to an end, to close, terminate
Wade led the wide-eyed,
out of the barn, saying the gelding was bomb proof, hoping to
, mail-order cowboy into going back east.
– A wild or rogue horse
Fat in the fire
– When all your plans go awry!
Fill a blanket
– To hand-roll a cigarette
– Someone who has a lot to say, a talkative person
– A bedroll
– To trick someone
– To scare or frighten
Stella may have been a
dragging her rope, but she didn’t hesitate to
give the mitten
to Jacob, a most eligible, but quite jingled suitor, shouting, “
Go boil your shirt
– Get moving, hurry up
Get it in the neck
– To be cheated or misled
Get shed of
– To get rid of
Get/Give the mitten
– To reject or be rejected by a suitor
Get the wrong pig by the tail
– When you choose someone for any reason—to take up a cause, share a secret, do a job—and it turns out it was a huge mistake!
Go boil your shirt
– Get lost! Go take a hike! Get out of here!
– When you go out carrying a six-shooter, packing iron.
– A divorced woman
Nora searched the entire house, and was about to
hang up her fiddle
when little Bobbi-Jo ran into the kitchen,
in hand. “I
seen it nowhere, then I had a
’ for an apple, and there it was in the orchard!”
– A contraction of “have not”
– What you put on your head! A hat
Hair in the butter
– Shall we say, a rather delicate situation that must be handled with great tact and sensitivity
Hammer and tongs
– Acting out in a boisterous, angry manner
– To delay, postpone
Hang up one’s fiddle
– To give up
Hang onto one’s fiddle
– To carry on
Hanker or hankering
– A longing, a desire or a want
– Bringing joy and happiness
Hobble your lip
– Shut up
Drifter Jack was
in for it
now, in liquor, shootin’ off his
in the middle of town. He was trying to mount his old paint
when the sheriff nabbed him.
– The right side of a horse. Indians mounted from the right side, while settlers, cowboys, traditionally, mounted from the left.
In for it
– When you’re so deeply involved in a situation, there’s no going back
– Plastered! Intoxicated, drunk
– Depending on the context, it could mean a branding iron, or a six-gun.
Lucy stood cooking supper,
away about the
at the church on the day her eldest daughter, Millie finally
jumped the broom
– To reprimand, or scold in an abusive manner
– Shooting the breeze, talking
– Great festivity!
Jump the broom
– To wed, get married
– A mean-spirited name for a greenhorn cowboy or an eastern cowboy wannabe.
Molly burst into the
, feeling quite
“Oh, promise me you’ll
keep it dry
! You’re never gonna believe who’s gonna jump the broom!” she shouted.
That’s when she saw Rev. Gunderson sitting in the chair across from her mother, and realized her wobblin’ jaw just might
kick up a row
– Feeling healthy and in great spirits
– A parlor, living or sitting room where the family and company gathers
Keep that dry
– Shhhhhh…it’s a secret!
Keep the pot a boiling
– Don’t stop; keep going
– To complain, protest or raise an objection to something
Kick up a row
– Cause trouble, a disturbance
– A cabinet or cupboard
Emma shivered, pulled the
tight around her shoulders, and took in the sun setting on the vast land. Should she keep it dry, or tell her husband, and make it right? That morning, while tidying William’s desk, she
some papers. The error was so glaring now, but, after six years of wedded bliss, it seems they had, unknowingly
leapt the book
– A blanket
– Wealthy, set for life
– A bullet
Leap the book
– An illegal, mistaken or false marriage
– Happen to discover
“Walter! Git yer
in here and set the eatin’ irons on the table. Supper’s ready!” Lottie hollered.
Walter stood in the doorway watching her push the
around the skillet, grease popping and sizzling. She wiped her brow, and hummed a tune. Some men would say he was a
’, but he knew he had
made his jack
. After all these years, through the good and the bad, he was still hopelessly
Made his jack
– Achieved his goal, got what he was aiming for
– Unlike a mail-order bride, a mail-order cowboy was hardly welcome in the Old West. In fact, the term was quite rude, and often used to bully newcomers. Western cowboys would badger eastern tenderfoots who arrived out west, wearing clothes that looked more like cowboy costumes, than work clothes.
– Everything one needed to roll cigarettes: tobacco and papers.
– Poor guy! This is a man going through some hard times.
Man at the pot –
A sacred rule of chuck wagon etiquette! If a cowboy goes to refill his cup from the campfire coffee pot, and another cowboy yells, “Man at the pot,” the cowboy at the coffee pot is obliged to refill or top off every man’s cup.
To learn more about the chuck wagon, and the curmudgeon ranch hands called “cookie,” check out
The Chuck Wagon: America’s First Food Truck
– Yes, the birds are chirping and music is playing…because when you’re mashed, you’re in love!
– A lawyer. ‘nuff said!
– A crude way of saying hands or fingers.
– You might know the term “mystery meat.” In the Old West, “mysteries” were sausages for the same reason—no one (perhaps, except the butcher) knew exactly what was in them.
“Greta is just a
!” Louisa said, as she bounced a
in her arms, and another tugged at her dress, “She got
nailed to the counter
, accusing that
of being a
. Look at him, as
as he is; he’d do nothin’ of the sort.”
Nailed to the Counter
– Proof that a rumor, accusation, or what someone said or did is false
Nobby or Nobbish
– Fashionable, stylish
– Someone who sticks their nose in everyone’s business
– A squatter. A person who takes up residence on government land to farm.
– A common thief, a petty thief
– Awwww! A wee one! A baby or young child
Most folks around this
town know to avoid Wilbur. He’s an
on the dodge
, always yelling that
is after him. Yeah, best to steer clear of Wilbur, lest you become
over head and ears
with his yammerin’ corral dust.
Odd fish or odd stick
– An eccentric person or someone who’s just plain strange, in their manners or way of thinking. An odd bird, as it were
Off one’s feed
– Not hungry, having no appetite
– A euphemism for the devil
– Small or not up to par
On the dead
– No charge, free
On the dodge
– In hiding
Over head and ears
– Too much to handle, overwhelmed
Mr. Albert Withers rode up on his old
chestnut mare, leanin’ left and right on the weathered
, singing at the top of his lungs,
playing to the gallery
! Some speculated he’d been
paintin’ his nose
over in Dodge.
Paintin’ his nose
– Out getting plastered, drunk
– A rude name for an English saddle
Piece of pudding
– Good luck, a change for the better
Plank, plank down, plank up, (pony up)
– Paying cash
Play to the gallery
– Showing off
– A clumsy, awkward horse
Pulling a kite
– Making a face (silly, mean, sarcastic, etc.)
“Yes, your papa is a bit of a
,” Ella told little Carrie and Charlie, when they ran to tell her their pa locked himself in the
to smoke a
– Like an odd stick or odd fish, a quirky, eccentric, odd individual
– Let’s hear it for indoor plumbing! A toilet inside a house—what a luxury in the Old West!
– A cigarette, usually one that is hand-rolled
, Jesse is usually a
gentleman, but come Saturday night, he sure can
down at the saloon, hitting up a
! By closing time, he looks like he’s been
rode hard and put up wet
– A lot, a large amount or quantity
– Dressed stylishly, dressed well
– Raise a ruckus, start trouble
– A wanton or lecherous person
– A highly regarded, expert cowhand
Rode hard and put up wet
– Looking quite rough, whether inherently ugly, or appearing ragged due to enduring difficult circumstances. The phrase refers to a horse that’s been ridden to exhaustion, is sweating, breathing hard, and is put up in the barn, hot and uncared for.
– Inebriated, drunk
Run against a pill
– Getting shot, taking a bullet
Sadie set her cap for Elmer, though some called him a
. Sure enough, Elmer was
soft down on
! Not only could Sadie brew up a mean
, but she could also
string a whizzer
as good as any bull nurse he knew. She was definitely
someone to ride the river with
. Yes, Elmer’s
days were over.
– A cowboy who spends more time at the chuck wagon than working the herd
– A woman
– A person who is not bright, stupid, a dolt
– To prank, play a joke on
– A person who eats as if he hasn’t seen food in days, shoves down food hungrily
See how the cat jumps
– Discovers a someone’s secret or their ulterior motives, plans
Set her cap for him
– To try to get a potential suitor’s attention, to have eyes for
– Ah…can you smell that enticing aroma? Good, strong coffee
Soft down on
– In love, enamored
Sold his saddle
– When a cowboy disgraces himself
Someone to ride the river with
– This is
person, the one you can always count on to have your back
– When a man looks for a girl to court, or go out with
– When a person is full of himself and boasts
String a whizzer
– Tell an exaggerated story, a tall tale
Everyone remembered Herman as a
, the type you’d
throw off on
when he came around with his
talking a donkey’s hind leg off
. No one missed him when he went
three ways from Sunday
. Five years passed, and the whole town was surprised when he returned, now the
tall hog at the trough
Table muscle –
– Fawning, flattery, smooth talk
Talk a donkey’s hind leg off –
Idle chatter, talking just to talk, yammering with no purpose
Tall hog at the trough
– An outstanding leader, one with superior vision and groundbreaking ideas
Tan your hide
– To spank, paddle, slap
– Taps refer to feet. When you’re “on your taps,” you’re on your feet, ready to take off.
– Tales or yarns told by imaginative travelers, animated tall tales with many false elements
– A story filled with sadness, gloom, sorrow, heartbreaking enough to make one cry
– A small-minded, petty, inconsequential man
Three ways from Sunday
– Flee, move fast, hightail it out from a place
Throw off on
– Goof on, make fun of, joke about
– Old news, news that people have already heard
– Contraction for “It was not.”
Two whoops and a holler
– A place that’s not far away
Best be wary of Jed, he may be
ugly as a mud fence
, and look to be like ain’t nothin’ in the
, but he’s
up to trap
Ugly as a mud fence
– Description of a very, very ugly person
– When a horse bucks
– One’s brain, their head
Up the spout
– Something, like a farm, town or ranch, that’s gone to ruin or waste
Up to trap
– A person who is sharp, shrewd, aware
scanned the desert for
then polished off the
and passed out on the
– Mormon whiskey
– A cowboy, cattle herder, used in the southwest U.S./central Texas. Also, the Spanish word for “cowboy,” derived from the Spanish word
, which means cow.
– A cowboy’s bedroll
, the way he
, he’s liable to
off ya, leaving ya
– To yabber on, tongue wag, be quick to speak
– Another word for “cowboy,” but usually a ranch hand who was a drifter, one who traveled from ranch to ranch, working as needed during the busy season.
– To raise Caine, raise a ruckus
Wake up/Woke up the wrong passenger
– To get the
person angry or upset, as they might retaliate!
War bag or war sack
– A cowboy’s travel bag in which they carried only the bare essentials
– One’s ears
Wearing the bustle wrong
– Expecting, with child, pregnant
– To lecture, preach or blabber non-stop, passionately, fervently
– Tuckered out, exhausted
– Crooked, sideways, uneven, messed up
– The image of a person’s jaw constantly wobbling when they gossip
Jasper planked down the fee, marked the paper with an “
,” staking his claim to the gold mine he hoped would make him rich.
– Yes, the letter X, the signature of a man who couldn’t read nor write, witnessed by another, considered legally binding.
“That bunko artist musta took me for some kinda
, stealin’ my
like that,” Old Ben said, and tossed back another red eye, “But I sure cleaned his plow!”
– A person who is not intelligent
– To eat
– Blabbering, talking
– A coward
– A gold coin
“I saw them bees
’, heared ‘em
’, and I was on my taps, hightailin’ it outta there!” Tommy said, all puffed up, spreading himself. But by the look on Becky’s face, he realized, perhaps it wasn’t the story to tell when you’re trying to cut a rusty with a girl.
– To zip, fly
– To hum, buzz, or bark
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