Cowboy Lingo

Part of the charm and character of the Old West has always been the colorful speech of those days. Books have borrowed it, movies have parodied it, and children gallop around on stick horses mimicking it. Yet what DID those people really have to say? Check out our list and brush up on your Old West Lingo.

Cowboy and Cowgirl Cartoon
Kids Wagon




Adam’s Ale – Water.

Addle-pot – A spoil sport.

Atwixt – Between.


Bad Egg – A bad person.

Baker’s Dozen – Thirteen.

Balderdash – Nonsense.

Bamboozle – To deceive, impose upon, confound.

Bend an Elbow – Have a drink.

Bellyache – Complain.


Cahoots – Partnership, company or band.

Chap – A boy, lad, a fellow.

Chisel or Chiseler – To cheat or swindle. A cheater.

Close-Fisted – Stingy, mean.

Chow – Food, dinner.

Coon’s Age – A long time.

Cooling Yer Heels – Staying for a while.


Dead as a Door Nail – Utterly, completely dead.

Dicker – Barter, trade.

Dilly-Dally – To delay.

Ditty – A which-i-ma-call-it.

Douse-the–Lights – Lights out. Time to hit the hay.

Dyed in The Wool – Ingrained, thorough.



Eatin’ Irons – Silverware.

Euchered – To be outwitted or suckered into something.


Fetch – Bring, give. “Fetch me that hammer.”

Fiddle-Faddle – Trifling discourse, nonsense.

Firewater – Liquor.

Fish or Cut Bait – Do it or quit talking about it.

Fixin’ – Intending. “I’m fixin’ to get supper started.”

Fixin’s – Cooked food. Arrangements, embellishments, trimmings, garnishings.


Gitty-up – Go, move. A term used to get the horse to start moving.

Go the Whole Hog – Out and out in favor of anything.

Gospel Mill – Church.

Gotham – New York City.

Greased Lightning – Anything very fast.

Greenhorn – An easterner, innocent of cowboy ways.


Heap – A lot, many, a great deal. “He went through a heap of trouble to get her that piano.”

High-Falutin – Highbrow, fancy, self-important, pompous.

High Tail – To leave or ride off quickly.

Hit Pay Dirt – Mining term. To find something of value.

Ho Down – A party or celebration.

Hoosegow – Jail.

Hornswoggle – To cheat or trick, to pull the wool over one’s eyes.



Iron Horse – A railroad train.


Jawing – Talking. “We sat around the campfire just jawing.”

Jig is Up – Scheme/game is over, exposed.

John Barleycorn – Beer.

Joy Juice – Whiskey.


Knee-high to a… – Humorous description of short stature or youth.


Let On – To mention, disclose, betray a knowledge.

Lickety Split – Headlong, at full speed.

Lily Liver – Someone who is a coward.

Loco – Crazy.

Look-See – To investigate. “I think I’ll go have a look-see across that hill.”



Mad as a Hornet – Very mad.

Make Hay While the Sun Shines – To make the most of the day, or an opportunity.

Make Tracks – To leave, to walk away.

Mouthpiece – A lawyer.


Nary – None, not, zero.

Nigh Unto – Nearly, almost.


Odd Fish – A person who is eccentric or odd in his manners.

On the Fence – Neutral or undecided.

Out and Out – Wholly, completely, without reservation.


Pack Iron – To carry a revolver or “shooting iron”.

Pan Out – To pay well, prove profitable.

Persnickety – Peculiar, picky.

Pining Away For – Longing for.

Play Second Fiddle – To take an inferior part in any project or undertaking.

Pony Up – Pay over money. “Pony up that account.”

Pray Tell – Tell me.



Raisin’ Cain – Loud, noisy boisterous.

Reckon – To guess or think. “I reckon that’ll do right fine.”

Right as Rain – Fine. “After a good night’s rest, he’ll be right as rain.”

Roostered – Drunk.

Row – A fight.

Ruckus – Loud noise, voices, a racket.


Scallywag – A mean, rotten or worthless person.

Shindig – A dance, party, celebration.

Skedaddle – Scurry away or run like heck, get, leave, go. “I best skedaddle.”

Slap-Jacks – Pancakes

Spell – Time; for a while.

String – A line of horses.


Tarnation – A mild oath or explanation.

Ten Commandments – Fingers or nails.

Tenderfoot – A person new to the job, or a young person.

Timbers – Legs.

Three Ways from Sunday – Moving quickly; high-tailing it out of there.

Tit for Tat – I shall treat you as you treat me.

Tuckered Out – Tired, fatigued.


Up a Tree – In difficulty, cornered, unable to do anything.

Upper Story – The brain, the head. “He’s not right in his upper story.”



Vamoose – to disappear or leave quickly.

Varmint – A despicable, obnoxious, or annoying person.


Whole Kit and Caboodle – The entire thing.

Whapping – Very large.

Whuppin’ – Spanking.

Windies – Tall Tales.

Woolies – Sheep.


Yammerin’ – Talking. “Drink yer coffee an’ quit yer yammerin’.”

Yarn – A story.

Yellow Belly – A coward.

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