Western Words and Phrases that might have fooled you!


Some of these definitely fooled me! 

I love words and phrases. I love learning their origin, which helps me understand the word and how it came to be.  Here’s a few that might have you stumped too. See how many you actually know…

Sea lions – a name given to early day wild long-horned cattle “that came right out of the Gulf of Mexico” and so called because they could swim like ducks.  (so why not call them sea ducks?)

Prairie butter – a cowman’s name for the grease left in the pan of fried meat or bacon that he sometimes poured over his bread.   

Prayer book – what the cowboy calls his book of cigarette papers.

Owlhead – a cowboy’s term for a horse that cannot be trained to work or be ridden.

Hardtail– a cowboy and logger’s name for a mule. 

Credit – a notch carved upon a gun to commemorate the killing of a victim. Outlaws and gunmen of the wild bunch who killed for the sake of bragging rights followed this custom, but no man of principle wanted to remember the men he had killed.

Rosebud – a roper’s term for a knot tied in the dally end of the rope.

Talk turkey – a westerner’s expression to talk seriously, mean business (Hey, I knew this one!)

Unshucked – a cowboy’s word meaning naked.  When the word was used referring to a gun, as in “unshucked his gun” it meant that the man had drawn it from his holster thus making it a naked gun.

Stogies– a cowboy’s term for cheap hand-me-down boots.

Nickel-plated – a cowboy’s term for the best in anything, from the nickel-plated decorations on his clothing and riding gear, to a well-dressed woman.

Jingle your spurs – a cowboy’s command to someone to get a move on, or hurry up!Cowboy or outlaw - you decide?

High-line rider – what the cowboy called an outlaw. He usually rode the high country to keep a lookout for sheriffs or posses.

Front-door puncher– a cowboy who spends too much of his time in town.

Man at the pot! – a shout heard in a cowboy camp at mealtime. If a man gets up to refill his coffee cup and hears the yell, he is duty-bound by camp etiquette to go around with the pot and fill all the cups held out to him. 

Okay, now it’s your turn. Just for fun see if you can answer these questions.

1. What was the occupation of a “silk-popper?”

2. What kind of vegetable was called “music roots?”

3. What event occurs at a “Texas cakewalk?”

4. What is a “hot rock?”

5. What is a “cowboy cocktail?”

What western words or phrases surprised you most? Do you use any western phrases in your everyday life?  And what phrases are you tired of hearing in westerns?  

Look for the hunky cowboy picture in another post and you’ll see the answers later on today!

Oh and if you like Christmas stories, Do Not Disturb Until Christmas might be just for you!  My hero’s not a cowboy, but he’s every bit an rugged alpha male and my heroine is a famous country western singer!  Click to purchase.

RT Top Pick and Border’s #4 Bestseller in romance this week!


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28 thoughts on “Western Words and Phrases that might have fooled you!”

  1. Hi Charlene!! When I was in college, I had to write a paper on a origin of a word and since I was studying social work and working with the disabled, I picked a word in how that it was really developed in a negative way and how we use words now that are more positive. I did it on Handicapped (It means ‘Hand in cap’, the image of begging, like in the past at airports and all when out of pity others would come and put money in their hat for a pencil, etc. I learned so much doing that paper!

    I’d answer the questions but I don’t know (and I’m having fun reading the ones you posted!) I think #5 is a drink 😀 Is a texas cakewalk about how a cowboy walks with their chaps on? And maybe a ‘hot rock’ is those they heated to cook with? (Now thats one out of all of them that I think I did good with) LOL

  2. Love the list, Charlene. This blog is a keeper. But I don’t know any of the ones you asked about (although I too recognized talking turkey).
    Can’t wait to read “Do Not Disturb.” It sounds wonderful. Glad it’s getting well deserved recognition.

  3. Hi Caffey,
    Wow- I didn’t know that’s what handicapped meant! I thought it was politically correct to use that term. I love learning how words and phrases came to be also. I’ll be posting what those words mean this afternoon!

    And thank you for the congrats. I appreciate it and it’s always good for an author to know their work is recognized in a positive way.

  4. Hi Elizabeth – these phrases also surprised me. I guess, we get accustomed to using certain commonly used words in our westerns, but there are so many words we might consider old time slang.
    Happy Friday!

  5. hi Charlene, what a fun and enlightening post! Maybe beans for music roots? (I keep hearing Blazing Saddles right now LOL.) but…to me, hot rocks are the, well, hot rocks used on me recently during a magnificent massage!

    I was interested recently in a blog featuring Cactus Rose authors that has a list of typical 19th century cowboy swear words. They aren’t at all what I thought.

    Sea lions cracked me up. Who would have thought?

    Congrats on Do Not Disturb. I am about half-way through and such recognition is well deserved.

  6. Hi Tanya- You’d be surprised what music roots is. I tried to find out why, but I couldn’t. It’s not beans, I’ll tell you that. And Blazing Saddles came immediately to mind too!! Now, I’d love to see that cuss word list!

  7. I’ve got no idea what any of these are but I’m having fun imagining. After reading your examples I’m fairly sure I’ll get them all wrong.

    1. What was the occupation of a “silk-popper?”
    ? Gambler? Like he’s dressed in flashy clothes?
    2. What kind of vegetable was called “music roots?”
    Turnips? Root vegetables came to mind. I can only think of about three root vegetables. Tanya’s guess is probably right. 😀
    Oops, I see your comment to Tanya, so it’s probably not a bit about food.

    3. What event occurs at a “Texas cakewalk?”
    Okay, just gonna make a wild guess………….
    still thinking………………
    Something insanely hard. A cattle drive?

    4. What is a “hot rock?”
    I’m guessing NOT a reference to Mick Jagger.
    Or diamonds
    A bullet. I’ll guess that.

    5. What is a ”cowboy cocktail?”

  8. Wow, Mary–you got your book before I got mine! Hope it’s a great referecne! I did get another Cowboy Lingo book though (apparnetly I ordered two *g*–I was on a buying binge ;-))called COWBOY SLANG by Edgar R. “Frosty” Potter. He worked on the Diamond N Ranch in North Dakota. It’s been fun to thumb through. It’s more of a phrase book, catergorized by reference words in alphabetical order; here’s a few examples:

    “He took to it like a bear to a honey tree.”
    “She was mild as milk, she was.”

    “Kickin’ never gets you nowhere lessen yore a mule.”

    “As crazy as popcorn on a skillet.”
    “Knockin’ round like a blind dog at a meat market”
    “He was plumb weak north of the ears.”
    “Crazy as a woman’s watch.”

    A ton of phrases and it gives horse and rodeo terms and a section on barbed wire and cattle brands. Kinda cool 😉

  9. Love this post, Charlene 😀 Love the images those phrases give! That hunky cowboy pic is mighty nice, too 😉 I’m anxious for those answers!!

    Could you’re cowboy definition of a Texas Cakewalk be a hanging??? Gonna guess a Cowboy Cocktail is whiskey—I’m stumped on the rest!

    Congrats on the RT Top Pick and Bestseller list–woohoo!!!!

  10. Hi Charlene, I loved your blog. I didn’t know most of these, but they’re entertaining! I really like Man at the Pot–I think I’ll use it at my house.

    Okay, I’ll take a guess at ‘Cowboy Cocktail’ — is it a beer followed by a whiskey chaser?

    Some of these cowboy sayings have so much incredible truth to them. I guess that’s why they’re catchy!

  11. I haven’t even cracked open the cover of my books yet, STacey, last night, they were there when I got home from work and it was a hectic night so I barely finished getting the hermetically sealed container opened with a blow torch and chain saw before bedtime.

  12. Wow, Charlene, extremely educational post! (And easy on the eye!) I can’t wait to see what the answers to your questions are!

  13. Hi Charlene!

    1. What was the occupation of a “silk-popper?”
    A) A skinner?

    2. What kind of vegetable was called “music roots?”
    A) Vegetable? I would have said beans. 😀

    3. What event occurs at a “Texas cakewalk?”
    A) Is that the celebration after the ‘doggies’ finally get to their destination? 😀

    4. What is a “hot rock?”
    A) Something they slip into their sleeping bags to keep warm? 😀

    5. What is a ”cowboy cocktail?”
    A) Dirty water? 😀

    I have three westerns I watch over and over again. “Tombstone,” “Wyatt Earp” and “The Quick and the Dead” -(1995.)

    Within those movies, there really isn’t one particular phrase that is over-used. Although not a day goes by when I don’t say, “Well . . . Bye.” (From Tombstone.)

    Fun post!

  14. Genella’s comment about favorite lines reminds me of one.

    In Jaws, you remember that famous line when Roy Scheider first has the big ol’ shark lunge up out of the water at him, while they’re on the boat? He stands up straight, for a moment frozen in terror, then he says, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

    Well, we watched a movie about a giant grizzly bear terrorizing people (yeah, I can hear the Jaws music now” and when they first saw the bear, one of my daughters, sitting watching the movie, says, “We’re gonna need a bigger wagon.”
    We all just cracked up.

    And since then it’s an inside family joke.

    “We’re gonna need a bigger bowl” spoken in ominous tones, like if the popcorn spills.

    “We’re gonna need a bigger turkey.” Like when I set the food down on the Thanksgiving table.

    I found Grizzly, but I don’t think this is right http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074593/
    I thought it was pioneers but this is like… a park ranger. The synopsis calls it Jaws on Dry Land so it must be the same movie…can there be TWO????????????????

  15. Stacey and Mary – I hope you enjoy your books! When I get a research book, I wish I had a mind like a sponge to absorb it all. I find it quite frustrating that I can’t recall things unless I write them down. Same with museums, I’m so fascinated, but would be lost without my notebook!

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