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Fun with Words – Cowboy Slang, Lingo, and Jargon

By December 5, 2018 No Comments
cowboy slang, lingo, jargon, black and white photograph from circa 1901 of cowboys sitting on horses looking directly into camera

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While at a customer’s office, some how we starting talking about bad commercials. One that always comes to my mind when thinking business-to-business and bad, are the old EDS commercials. These commercials characterize and personify its customers as cats, squirrels, or airplanes (my blog post including links to the commercials).

The underlying message in each commercial is EDS makes the complex world of technology and consulting easier. The rub is that with each commercial, EDS pokes fun at its customers. This is what makes the commercials “bad.” While they are 1,000% on message and hilarious, they make fun of the customer.

After I shared my EDS Cat Herders as a suggestion on bad commercials, someone in the group said she loved those commercials for the same reasons. And interestingly, she looked up cowboy slang after first watching those commercials. All she remembered was one phrase, “Chew gravel,” which means “thrown from a horse” (see #33).

This got me thinking about cowboy slang and jargon. I thought it would be a fun blog post. I then curated the cowboy phrases from the sites listed below the list. Visit those sites to enjoy a lot more slang with cowboy/old west history as well.

COWBOY SLANG, LINGO, AND JARGON

  1. A hog-killin’ time:  a real good time1
  2. A lick and a promise: to do haphazardly. “Bill just gave it a lick and a promise”3, 4
  3. Above Snakes:  If you were “above snakes,” you were above ground – meaning still alive4
  4. Ace-high:  first class, respected1, 3, 4
  5. Ace in the Hole:  hideout or a hidden gun4
  6. Acknowledge the Corn:   admit the truth, to confess a lie, or acknowledge an obvious personal shortcoming4
  7. Adam’s Ale:  water4
  8. Airin’ the Lungs:  term for cussing4
  9. A lick and a promise:  to do haphazardly. “Bill just gave it a lick and a promise”3, 4
  10. All down but nine:  missed the point, not understood. This is a reference to missing all nine pins at bowling3
  11. At sea:   at a loss, not comprehending. “When it comes to understanding women, I am at sea”3, 4
  12. An invite to a dance:  could mean shooting at a man’s feet to make him dance1
  13. Bad plum/Lead plum/Blue whistler:  bullet1
  14. Bag of Nails:  Everything in confusion, topsy-turvy4
  15. Bake:  to overheat a horse by riding too fast, long, or hard2, 4
  16. Bangtail:  wild horse; mustang2, 4
  17. Barkin’ at a Knot: Doing something useless; wasting your time, trying something impossible4
  18. Barn sour:  horse that loves his stall; speeds up the pace as he nears the barn on the journey home2
  19. Batwings:  long chaps with broad leather flaps2, 4
  20. Bazoo:  mouth. “Shut your big bazoo”3
  21. Bear sign:  donuts. A cook who could and would make them, was highly regarded3, 4
  22. Bee:  gathering of friends, family and neighbors to get a specific job done. Usually used with women’s quilting get togethers as in a quilting bee
  23. Bee in Your Bonnet:  An idea4
  24. Best bib and tucker:  best clothes. “There’s a dance Saturday, so put on your best bib and tucker”3
  25. Big bug:  the boss, an important person1, 3
  26. Boil over:  horse that starts bucking2
  27. Bone orchard:   cemetery3, 4
  28. Broom-tail:  a negative term for an ill-behaved or ugly horse, often a horse that looks or acts like a mustang2
  29. Burn the breeze:  ride at full speed2
  30. Busted off:  bucked off2
  31. Caterwauling:  usually terrible singing, or complaining1
  32. Cayuse:  cowboy’s steed2
  33. Chew gravel:  thrown from a horse2
  34. Chisel/Chiseler:  cheat or swindle, a cheater3, 4
  35. Choke Strap:  A necktie4
  36. Clean his/your plow:  get or give a thorough whippin’3, 4
  37. Clipped his horns:  took him down a notch or two; referring to a fight or a braggart1
  38. Coffee boiler:   shirker, lazy person. (Would rather sit around the coffee pot than help)3, 4
  39. Cow sense:  a horse that knows what to do around cows2
  40. Crowbait:  derogatory term for a poor-quality horse1, 3
  41. Curly wolf:  real tough guy, dangerous man. “Ol’ Bill is a regular curly wolf, especially when he’s drinkin’ whiskey”3, 4
  42. Dug for his cannon:  reached for his gun1
  43. Eatin Irons:  Silverware4
  44. Fish:  cowboy’s rain jacket, from a rain gear manufacturer whose trademark was a fish logo. “We told him it looked like rain, but left his fish in the wagon anyhow”3, 4
  45. Fit to be tied:  angry1
  46. Flannel mouth:  overly smooth or fancy talker, especially politicians or salesmen. “I swear that man is a flannel-mouthed liar”3
  47. Fly at it:  cook says this when his food is ready1
  48. Full as a tick:  drunk or over eating1, 3 
  49. Get a wiggle on:   hurry4
  50. Hang fire:  delay, lets hang fire before we make up our minds1
  51. Hazing a tenderfoot:  giving a city man a hard time1
  52. Hoosegow:  jail3
  53. I can set with that:  I can agree with that, I can handle that1
  54. In apple pie order:  in top shape3
  55. Lickety Split:  Headlong, at full speed4
  56. Light a shuck:  to get the heck out of here, lets light a shuck1
  57. Nailed to the counter:  proven a lie3, 4
  58. Odd stick:  eccentric person. “Ol’ Farmer Jones sure is an odd stick”3
  59. Of the First Water:  First class. “He’s a gentleman of the first water”4
  60. Owl headed:  horse that won’t stop looking around2
  61. Plumb:  meaning completely or totally (plumb tuckered out)1
  62. Prairie coal:  dried cow manure, used to build fires1
  63. Pull in your horns:  back off, quit looking for trouble3
  64. Quirley:    roll-your-own cigarette3
  65. Rocky Mountain canary:  burro used by the miners in the Rocky Mountains2
  66. Roostered:   drunk. “Looks like those cowboys are in there gettin’ all roostered up”3
  67. Scratching Rake:  A comb4
  68. Shooting iron, six shooter:  gun, pistol1
  69. Simon pure:  the real thing, a genuine fact. “This is the Simon pure”3
  70. Squinny:  To cause a laugh, to laugh, wink, smile4
  71. Taradiddles:  Falsehoods, traveler’s yarns or tales4
  72. Ten-cent Man:   a small, narrow-minded, trifling man4
  73. That Dog Won’t Hunt:  That idea or argument isn’t going to work. Or, the person saying it doesn’t believe what you’re saying4
  74. Thunderation:  non-profane curse1
  75. Too Much Mustard:  a braggart4
  76. Uncorkin’ a bronc:  breaking a horse2
  77. Varmint or Varment:  wild animal or a bad man1
  78. Waddie:  hired man, especially in the western United States, who tends cattle and performs many of his duties on horseback; sometimes refers to a cattle rustler; especially a cowboy who drifted from ranch to ranch and helped out in busy times2
  79. Wanna snort?  Want a drink1
  80. Wild West Weekly:   Pulp or “dime” novels4
  81. Will die standin’ up:  brave1
  82. Wobblin’ jaw:  talks to much1
  83. Yarn the hours away:  tell stories1

SOURCES

1 Cowboy Kisses
2 The Long Riders Guild Academic Foundation
3 A Writer’s Guide to the Old West
4 Legends of America

 

Photography Source:  Texas Ccowboys, circa 1901, Wikimedia – Library of Congress

Ira Koretsky

About Ira Koretsky

Ira Koretsky has built The Chief Storyteller® into one of the most recognized names in business storytelling. He has delivered over 500 keynote presentations and workshops in nearly a dozen countries, in more than one hundred cities, across 30 plus industries. His specialty is helping you simplify the complex and when the stakes are high. He is also an adjunct professor in public speaking and storytelling at the University of Maryland's Business School. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after global speaker, trainer, consultant, and executive communication coach.