The Language of a Cowboy and a Giveaway by Charlene Sands


 Writers tend to write with their own separate and unique voice which simply means that a strong writer’s voice can’t be mistaken for someone else.  The more powerful the “voice” of the author, the more unique and identifiable they are to their readers.   It’s more about style than anything else and the author’s natural way of telling a story.  But when you write in a certain time period, you also need to know the language of the day.

When writing westerns, I think I absorbed a great deal from watching television westerns as a young girl.  You know them all, Bonanza, Rifleman, Maverick, Gunsmoke, and the like.  It also didn’t hurt that my in-laws were Texans, and if one spends any amount of time in Texas, it’s impossible not to pick up on the nuances of the speech, the twang, the cadence of the way Texans speak.  

But I needed more help than that when writing my westerns because over the years some of those beautiful words and expressions faded into history.  I found this book, The Cowboy Dictionary subtitled, The Chin Jaw Words and Whing-Ding ways of the American West.  Author, Ramon F. Adams.  I don’t think I’ve ever written a western without digging into this book.  Here’s a few terms, words and expressions from the old WEST:

Cowboy language


Boston dollar- cowboy’s name for a penny

Buck out in smoke – to die in a gun battle

Cattle Kate – Any woman involved in cattle rustling. The original Cattle Kate Maxwell, real name Ella Watson was hanged with her lover for cattle stealing in Wyoming during the Rustler’s War.

Didn’t keep his twine on his tree – Said of a rustler who did not keep rope on the saddle horn where it belonged.

Fleabag- cowboy’s name for his bedroll

Giggle talk- what a cowboy calls foolish speech

Hang up his rope- Cowboy expression meaning to quit a job or quit their calling. Also said if one is too old to work with cattle any longer

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

Lead poisoned- a cowboy’s term for being shot

Lone ranger- a cowboy’s term for an unmarried man

Mouthy – a cowboy word for someone inclined to talk a great deal.  Cowboys’ motto, “The bigger the mouth the better it looks shut.”

Padding out his belly – someone inclined to eat at every opportunity

Pecos Bill- a cowboy name for a liar, from the mythical character of the West

Peddler of loads – teller of tall tales and “Campaign against the truth” and “could color up a story redder than a Navajo blanket.”

Prayer book- cowboy’s word for his cigarette papers

Powders—cowboy’s term for orders from the boss

Ride herd on a woman – cowboy’s term for courting a woman

Soft grub- a cowboy’s term for hotel food or fancy victuals

Washing out the canyon- cowboy’s expression for taking a bath

Yack- a cowboy’s name for a stupid person


Do you have a favorite word, slang or expression?  If we were to write a book of terms and expressions today, what would we put in that book?  Of the above terms, which one surprises you the most or makes you laugh?   Post a comment and be entered to win a 2 in 1 Desire, Secret Heir of Sunset Ranch/Expecting a Bolton Baby (or another of my backlist books)  And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Twins for the Texan!!  


Twins for the Texan_Sand


Twins…and another baby on the way for this cowboy from USA TODAY bestselling author Charlene Sands! 

After Wyatt Brandt rescues Brooke McKay en route to a Texas wedding, they spend one hot night together before going their separate ways. Now Brooke’s back with news she isn’t sure the wealthy rancher is ready to hear—especially when she discovers he’s already a father…of twins!

Being a single dad is a full-time job Wyatt can’t do alone. He doesn’t expect the ideal nanny to be the beauty who briefly shared his bed. But he accepts her help gladly—not knowing her little secret will change his family forever…






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24 thoughts on “The Language of a Cowboy and a Giveaway by Charlene Sands”

  1. Believe it or not the only one that surprised me was Lone Ranger as being just an unmarried man and nothing else. Many made sense or had heard of a bit or a lot. That book I never heard of but I would want it in my library of writing tools if I was an actual writer or author. Looks like a must have maybe even for fun too. Thanks for that fun & informative look into the west and your other book looks good and love to see how men react to babies and even better if they turn out being their own. I praise single dads especially when they do it well, good & with fun in their too. My younger cousin became a dad just out of high school by an error in his normally good life but 1st lust at 18 makes babies at 19. He embraced it and her, got her away from her terrible mother and raised her by himself with my cousin, his mom helping at first, I even babysat for him. Now he’s married a 10 yr old boy, 2 yr old girl and just found out another on the way and his daughter is in college doing great and almost 20, wanting to fly in the service, going to ROTC I believe now. So go single dads.

    • Hi Elaine,
      Yes, that one surely surprised me as well. As we think of the Lone Ranger, as a Texas Ranger from long ago. Thanks for sharing your personal story with us too and maybe not enough is said about single dads. We always hear about single moms, but dads have it hard too. Best Wishes.

  2. I enjoyed learning these new terms. Yack stands out to me. I can see myself using it from time to time. Fleabag makes me laugh too. But I bet their bedrolls weren’t exactly the cleanest things.

    • Hi Janine!

      Yep, the thought of sleeping in a fleabag is not appealing! I’ve heard yack being used in present times, but was never sure what it meant until I found out from the book. Thanks for stopping by today! Best wishes!

    • Hi Shelly! I haven’t heard that one before! I guess a smoke was important to a man those days, thus the papers…I love learning how these sayings get started!!

  3. Like Shelly, prayer book was one I never would have guessed. Only Cowboys could come up with such terms! Thanks for sharing, Charlene!

  4. Hi Charlene!
    I got a kick out of all of those terms. I have a book called Cowboy Slang (Colorful Cowboy sayings!) by Edgar R. “Frosty” Potter, which I picked up at an RWA National conference many years ago. Used it for my book One for the Road, and had a blast. I think my favorite cowboy saying is for a person who is in bad shape from lack of sleep or over working or whatever:
    “Looks like he was rode hard and hung up wet.”
    Fun blog!

  5. These were great.. When I hear “Fleabag” It reminds me of a not so great motel.. Never heard it referred to has a cowboys bedroll..

  6. I also loved the prayer book. Had an instant vision of a cowboy by the camp fire rolling his own, legs stretched out, dreaming of the day and ready to roll out his fleabag. Must go and get my copy of Twins for the Texan. Don’t know how I missed that one. 🙂

    • Hi Robena!
      Yes, yes, I can picture that scenario too!
      Another one that cracks me up, washing out the canyon, means taking a bath! There are lots of implications there, that I won’t say!

  7. Will not describe the mental image I got when I read washing out the canyon.

    My husband does not swear but has been heard to say “OH, for corn’s sake” when frustrated with something.

  8. Oh those were interesting sayings! A few I have heard before… Ride herd on a woman and Washing out the canyon stood out to me! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  9. I am always saying he would make a rabit hug a hound for someone really nice looking or they would make a sheep dog love a wolf. I love the work yack.

  10. We have a few that seem to be local to Central Illinois, but of course put on the spot I cannot think of one. Those you have listed above are great though. I’ll have to consider if I can use them sometime and really make people wonder. 🙂

    Oh, just thought of one, not sure it’s a good one – “got your ears lowered” – said to a man who got his haircut.

  11. Congratulations on the twins, Charlene! This is a great post and one I’ll check back on many times to come:. I am afraid I say “dude” entirely too much lol . Thanks to my son and a career teaching high school . It’s definitely one I can use for any emotion. Duh. From your list, I especially want to try out ” yack.” Hugs….

  12. I was a little surprised by the meanings for Prayer book and washing out the canyon, although I am sure many cowboys had enough dirt on them after the a long trail drive to make it seem like a canyon was being washed out. One expression I am still having trouble with here in the South is “I don’t care to (do something).” To us Yankees that means no, you don’t want to do it. Here it means you will be glad to do it.

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