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Colorful Cowboy Slang from the Old Days

You may have heard Yosemite Sam banging out an almost indecipherable string of exclamations as a child and wondered what in the world he was on about. Well, the truth is that cowboy slang is pretty interesting and has some quite humorous phrases attached to this old way of talking. On ranches, cowboys often had little contact with the outside world for months on end, spending time herding cattle and pretty much only socializing with other cowhands. Much like men in the military create their own way of talking, so did the cowboys of yore.

A

Above snakes (phrase):

not dead yet, above ground

Ace in the hole (phrase):

a hideout or a secreted firearm

Adam’s Ale (noun):

beer

Addlepot (noun):

a spoilsport

Afeared (verb):

scared

Anti-fogmatic (noun):

alcohol, usually rum or whisky

B

Bach (verb):

to “bach” it up meant living the bachelor lifestyle

Back staircase (noun):

a woman’s bustle

Bag of nails (phrase):

everything in disarray

Ballyhoo (noun):

hyperbole, sales talk to get someone to buy something, exaggeration

Bamboozle (verb):

to swindle someone

Bellywash (noun):

weak coffee

C

Caboobdle (noun):

the whole thing, as in “kit and caboodle”

Cahoots (noun):

to be in partnership with

Calico queen (noun):

a prostitute

California collar (noun):

the hangman’s noose

Catawampus (noun):

askew, a disruption, or something which is crooked

Chiseler (noun):

a cheater or swindler

D

Dabster (noun):

someone who’s good at something

Dangler (noun):

an express train

Deadshot (noun):

strong liquor

Dinero (noun):

the Spanish word for money

Ditty (noun):

a whatmacallit

E

Eagle (noun):

a gold ten dollar coin

Eatin’ irons (noun):

silverware

Equalizer (noun):

pistol

F

Fair shake (phrase):

a good exchange or a good chance

Fandango (noun):

a big party; derives from the Spanish couples dance

Fiddle faddle (noun, verb):

something which doesn’t make sense or the act of talking nonsense

Fish (noun):

raincoat (from a brand which had a fish logo)

Flannel mouth (noun):

a smooth talker or liar

G

Gadabout (noun):

a man about walking

Gee Up (verb):

to agree, used in reference to a teamster getting his oxen to go faster and work together

Get a wiggle on (phrase):

to hurry

Give the mitten (phrase):

when a woman turns down a fella’s marriage proposal

Grub pile (noun):

a meal, the chuckwagon

H

Haint (noun):

a have not

Hammer and tongs (phrase):

to go about something in a loud or chaotic manner (as in the hammer and tongs of blacksmith which were quite loud)

Hardfisted (adjective):

miserly

High-falutin (adjective):

snobbish or pompous (from the Swedish word verlooten, which means to be on stilts)

Hither and yon (phrase):

here and there

I

Illy (adjective):

ailing

In for it (phrase):

no turning back now

Iron horse (noun):

railcar or train

J

Jawing (verb):

talking

Jig is up (noun):

you’ve been caught out

Judas steer (noun):

the steer in a herd which would lead the other cows on drives, once identified he was used to lead them to later the slaughter

Joy juice (noun):

whiskey

Jump the broom (phrase):

to get married

Click “Next Page” to read the rest of these cowboy slang terms!

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