Ain’t Nothin’ Better than Cowboy Lingo

MargaretBrownley-headerI love writing about the old west.  That was when men were men and women were women, but a cowboy wasn’t a cowboy unless he was wild, woolly and full of fleas.  Of course the heroes we write about are more likely to be tall, dark and handsome, which may be a bit of a tall tale or whizzer.  But as far as the lingo goes, there’s no reason to stretch the blanket —and yes-siree-bob, that’s part of the fun.

Today’s language seems rather dull compared to the colorful expressions and words of yesteryear.  Can you think of  more mouth-pleasing words than hornswoggle, caboodle or skedaddle?  Or what about fiddlefooted, ranktankerous, rumbumptious  or splendiferous? A latte may be the haute cuisine of coffee, but give me an Arbuckle’s any day.

A know-it-all has a saddle to fit every horse, and if someone called you a drowned horse it meant you had a bloated ego.  And when was the last time you heard the weather man describe a dust storm as Oklahoma rain?  Cowboys didn’t just work together they were in cahoots, and if you want to ride your horse fast, you will either  have to burn the breeze or ride a blue streak.

The rebellious part of me delights that my characters can use such words as “ain’t” and “druther” without being cut down.  My eighth grade English teacher would have had a fit.  Of course, back in the 1800s, she’d be more likely to have a conniption (any way you call it,  it serves her right for branding me with an F).

Today’s nicknames seem rather tame compared to Old Fuss and Feathers, Rattlesnake Dick, Cattle Annie. and Crazy Horse Lil

 

 

When a cowboy said “hell on wheels” he wasn’t talking about no bikers (double negatives welcome).  He was talking about movable towns that followed the building of railroads.

Job hunters could take a lesson from an old buckaroo who claimed to be born in a hurricane and could handle anything that came his way.  A cowboy didn’t have work experience but he sure did have wrinkles on the horn.  He was also a firm believer that every bull should carry its own tail.  Think you’re right for the job?   I’m your huckleberry meant I’m your man.  Write that on your resume.

Want to impress someone with your courage? Tell them you know how to die standing up.  Someone dallying too long in the chow line? Yell at them to fire and fall back.  Fallen off the straight and narrow?  What you need is a fire escape (a cowboy’s name for a preacher).   Feeling spooney?  You haven’t lived until you’ve lallygagged on a sparking bench with your beau.

Criminals were called gangs, and a bad guy was a desperado, cattle thief,  gunman or roughneck. Anyone caught messing with the sheriff was escorted to the hoosegow immediately, if not sooner.

Finally, a word of wisdom to all you greenhorns out there.  Get a wiggle on and chew the cud but stay away from conversation fluid (whiskey)  Tell us your favorite cowboy expression and you’ll make us as happy as a dog with two tails.

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Margaret Brownley
Margaret has published more than 40 books and is a N.Y. Times Bestselling author and past Romance Writers of America Rita Finalist. She writes historical novels set--where else?--in the Old West! A Match Made in Texas is available for pre-order now. Margaret's stories also appear in the 12 Brides of Christmas, Pioneer Christmas and Second Chance at Star Inn collections. Not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English. Just don't ask her to diagram a sentence.
Updated: March 18, 2016 — 6:44 pm

26 Comments

  1. Vocabulary sure has changed over the years. I think yesteryear’s was a lot more interesting.

    1. Hi Janine, I agree. Today’s language seems so bland.

  2. If I had known the nickname, I would have called one of my teachers Old Fuss and Feathers. Love that! Thanks for fun post.

    1. I wonder if that’s the same teacher I had. Yep, Old Fuss and Feathers suited her to a T.

  3. I love to hear them say ” boy,Howdy”

    1. Anything those old cowboys say is fun to hear!

  4. These are awesome! I loved reading them. My family always said conniption and we all still do. “Don’t have a conniption!”

    1. Susan, that’s a great word. I use this kind of language all the time in my books, but sometimes it slips out during social occasions, so I have to be careful. My husband says I sound like I’m 200 years old.

  5. What a fun post, Margaret! I’ve written all these down. You never know when a character will need a colorful expression. 🙂

    1. Nothing like a colorful expression to spice up a book!

  6. I’m loving that cowboy language!

  7. What an awesome post, Margaret, and definitely one to come back to time and time again! I named a town Cahoots in one of my stories…I got a chuckle reading this today. Hugs…thanks for a great one.

    1. Tanya, what a great name for a town. Love it! Isn’t it fun to come up with town names? My next new series takes place in Two-Time Texas.

  8. Cowboys sure knew how to use an interesting vocabulary. Love it!

    1. Hi Melanie, I guess there wasn’t much to do on the range at night but think up interesting words and expressions.

  9. Thank you, Margaret! I love all this cowboy lingo! I still use “druthers.” I had to call our granddaughter and call her Crazy Horse Lil! Fits right in. My father WAS “Krazy Tom” and we were called ‘the Krazies.”

    I was born in the wrong era!

    1. I was born in the wrong era, too! Love the Krazies!

  10. Very enjoyable post. Thanks so much.

  11. Colorful language for a colorful way of life. It made for a good way to express oneself. I guess in some ways it may have made a hard life a bit more enjoyable. Some of these sayings we not just used by cowboys and a few can be found being used today. They do help brighten things up.

  12. Yes, every once in a while I hear an old saying and it always catches my ear. I wish we heard more.

  13. Thank you so much for such an entertaining post. I can’t help but wonder how your teacher would react to the languages used in schools now. I think the language of yesteryear was a lot more fun and more pleasant to hear. I love your books and the way you use thing like this. As a friend who moved here from Wyoming would say–“You’re real people!”

    1. Whitney, what a nice thing to say. I like being “real” people and I bet
      you do, too!

  14. Margaret -There isn’t any conversation doing on today, only social media. When you say, Hello, to someone they just stare at you. Love the old days when people actually talked to one another, now they only have there faces in their phones. Cowboys always do it better…..Yep!!!

    1. Lois, you’re so right. Social media doesn’t do it for me. I like to see the person I’m talking to! Yep!

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