One of my favorite things about the cowboy mystique is the way they express themselves. That colorful cowboy lingo is second to none when it comes to finding just the right way to describe a situation or person. Those western metaphors draw me into the old west faster than a gunman can clear leather. My mind immediately conjures images of trail-weary cowpokes jawin’ around a campfire or a bunch of ranch hands mumbling their opinions from atop a corral rail.

Ramon Adams wrangled up a fun selection in his book, Cowboy Lingo. Here are some of my favorites:

To express something as being hard to miss –

“plain as the ears on a mule” or “as conspicuous as a new saloon in a church district”

Someone or something not well liked –

“as popular as a wet dog at a parlor social”

A brave man –

“had plenty of sand in his craw” or “gravel in his gizzard”

When asked to do something on foot instead of on horseback –

The cowboy would reply that he was “too proud to cut hay and not wild enough to eat it.”

In hot, dry weather –

“you had to prime yourself to spit” or the weather “sweated him down like a tallow candle”

Trying to accomplish the impossible was like –

“tryin’ to scratch yo’ ear with yo’ elbow” or “trimmin’ the whiskers off the man in the moon”

Something useless –

“as useless as a twenty-two cartridge in an eight-gauge shotgun”

To describe a worthless person –

“his family tree was a scrub” or “he ain’t fit to shoot at when you want to unload your gun”

An ignorant person –

“don’t know as much as a hog does a side-saddle”; “his thinker’s puny”; “he don’t have nuthin’ under his hat but hair”; or “his brain cavity wouldn’t make a drinkin’ cup for a canary bird”

When something is pretty –

It’s “pretty as a painted wagon” or “pretty as a young calf’s ear”

When something is ugly –

It’s “so ugly the flies wouldn’t light on him”

A thin person –

“he’s built like a snake on stilts” or “he’s so narrow he could take a bath in a shotgun barrel”

An inhospitable person –

“sociable as an ulcerated tooth” or “as polite as a hound to a stray pup after his bone”

An unhappy person –

“his luck was runnin’ kinda muddy” or “someone had swiped the silver linin’ off his cloud”

 If a cowboy failed to comprehend your meaning, he might ask you to –

“chew it finer” or “cut the deck a little deeper” or “cinch up a little, your saddle’s slipping” because “it’s too boggy a crossin’ for me”

If he needed you to repeat something –

“Would you mind ridin’ over that trail again?”

If you talked too much, he might advise you to –

“save part of your breath for breathing” or “keep a plug in your talk box” or “put your jaw in a sling, your liable to step on it”


So what about you? What are some of your favorite cowboyisms?


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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

15 thoughts on “Cowboyisms…”

  1. When someone is really cute or nice looking
    “cute as a speckeled pup under a red wagon”or you’d make a rabit hug a hound.

  2. Karen,

    It’s so hard to chose among all the great cowboy sayings. Like you mentioned no one seemed to nail a situation on the head, or turn a phrase like a cowboy. Here are a few.

    Barkin’ at a Knot – Doing something useless; wasting your time, trying something impossible.

    Woke up the Wrong Passenger – To trouble or anger the wrong person.

    Didn’t Have a Tail Feather Left – Broke

    Five Beans in the Wheel – Five cartridges in the six chambers of a revolver.


  3. Those are super, Kirsten! I especially like the last one. Five beans in the wheel. When I hear that, I immediately picture a heroic cowboy hunching down behind a rock to check his ammo before firing against the rustlers trying to make off with his cattle. Wonderful stuff!

  4. Karen, I love cowboyisms! They sure add a lot of flavor to westerns be it books or movies. Cowboys have a great way of expressing themselves and it can’t be beat. I’ve used some of your examples and might “borrow” a few of the rest if the story calls for it. One of my favorite research books is Cowboy Lingo by Ramon F. Adams. Some great stuff in there. Thanks for such an interesting blog.

  5. Hi, Winnie. Love that bit of wisdom. Very good advice. 🙂

    Hi, Cheryl. Thanks for popping in today!

    Linda – The right phrase makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Most of the ones I listed came crom Mr. Adams’s book. Good stuff in there.

  6. Two of my favorites are:
    Never trust a skinny cook.
    And—Never make the cook angry.

    My husband is an old cowboy and I’ve heard these said many times.

  7. Those are good ones, Mary J. I’ve heard the skinny cook one before, but I love the addition of never making the cook angry. I bet that was especially true out on the trail. The ruler of the churck wagon held a lot of power over those hungry men.

  8. No cowboys where I grew up. I just enjoy hearing all these phrases and having them pop up in a book I’m reading.
    Like yours, Winnie. Works well in many variations. Substitute dog/doghouse or car/garage. Definitely a truism.

    Karen, thanks for a fun post.

  9. Great to hear from you, Patricia! Sometimes I wish I could carry off some of these sayings in real life, but somehow I don’t think they would sound the same coming from a soccer mom.

  10. These are great!! Can’t say that I can add any but I have a favorite saying of my husband….He does not swear but when he is upset will say “Oh for corn’s sake”

  11. I love that, Connie! It reminds me of a saying that stuck for a while in our house. I think the kids got it from Hannah Montana. But they would say, “Sweet Niblets”. Always made me think of a can of corn. LOL

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