How a Cowboy Talks ~ by Amy Lillard

I grew up in Mississippi and moved to Oklahoma when I was in my late teens. One thing you can say about the deep South and Southern-minded places like the Sooner State is the language can be quite colorful.  I never paid much attention to some of the idioms I would spout on a daily basis. Even after all this time.  That was, until I got a Yankee friend!  Yep, now I’ve done it.  But my crazy sayings afford her laughs on a daily basis, and I suppose that’s more than most can ask for.

For me, they are second nature.  I don’t give them a second thought.  They are just there, jumping from my mouth like everyone says them.

Okay, so maybe my Baltimore friends have no idea what I mean, but I know a few cowboys who would.  More than a few actually.  See, cowboys have a language all their own.  I’m not talking about bull fighters (previously known as rodeo clowns) and latigo (a leather strap on a Western saddle).  It’s more of an everyday vernacular as colorful as a West Texas sunset.

Here are a few for you to enjoy–

Cowboy vocabulary:

A lick and a promise = to do haphazardly. “She gave it a lick and a promise.”
Back down = yield, withdraw.
Bang-up = first rate. “They did a bang-up job.”
Bend an elbow = have a drink. “He’s been known to bend an elbow from time to time.”
Bender = drunk. “He’s off on bender again.”
Blow-up = fight/argument. “He and the missus had a blow-up, but it’s over, now.”
Buckle bunny = rodeo groupie
by hook or crook = any way possible
Cantina = bar/restaurant
Cowboy up = cowboy equivalent of chin up buttercup
Goner = Dead or past the point of no return—as in love. “He’s a goner.”
Heap = a great deal. “He went through a heap of trouble to get her that piano.”
Hoosegow = jail
In cahoots = secretly partnering together
Namby-pamby = not brave
Skedaddle = leave quickly
Tenderfoot or greenhorn = a new person

Y’all = all of you (always plural)
Yokel = a person from the country (not the city)
Yonder = over there
And my favorite: In apple pie order = in top shape. Because, well, I write “Romances as Sweet as Apple Pie!”

I’d love to hear from you. What cowboy idioms are you familiar with? Do you have one to add to the list? Or maybe just a great saying from your neck of the woods? Whatever it is, leave me a comment below.

Everyone who comments will be entered into a drawing to win a signed copy of Healing a Heart, my newest western romance.

Buy Amy’s book on Amazon!

Here’s a little more about Healing a Heart:

Amy Lillard, the author of Loving a Lawman invites you back to the ranch…

As cowboys, the Langston brothers of Cattle Creek, Texas, know it’s easy to mend a fence. Mending a broken heart, however, takes time…

Rancher Jake Langston prides himself on being the sensible type. But five years after the loss of his wife left him to raise their daughter alone, he indulges in a one-night stand with a sexy stranger. He thought he’d never see the woman again. Four months later, though, she’s standing in his drive with a big surprise.

Bryn Talbot wants nothing from the hunky cowboy who got her pregnant, but her Southern nature demands she at least tell him about it. When Jake’s family persuades her to stay for a while, she’s soon won over by their charms—and by Jake. But with the losses the two of them have suffered in the past, neither is sure if they’re ready to take the leap to forever…

And as always, thanks for reading!


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42 thoughts on “How a Cowboy Talks ~ by Amy Lillard”

  1. Those expressions are all known to me and I’m from the Northeast. Maybe it’s a generational thing because I grew up with all the TV western shows in the ’50s and 60s that I watched faithfully? Or maybe a long lifetime of reading? I have cousins in Oklahoma (from family lines that settled in Indian Territory after the war) whose voices I love much more than our harsher Northeast sounds, but I don’t notice different lingo. IOW, I hear the differences in voice sounds but not language. Funny.

    • It’s very interesting how things become a phrase for some and not others. My best friend is from Baltimore and she laughs at me all the time for my crazy ‘Southerisms.’ But a lifetime of watching westerns…oh yeah! Thanks for commenting!!! 🙂

  2. Loved this post. I am familiar with all the words on your list but as Eliza said above, I could be because I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s when western TV shows were prevelent and probably picked up the words from there.

    I love to look at different ways of speech in different areas of the country. I lived the first 48 years of my life in Southern California (except for 3 1/2 years in Japan in my early years 6-10) then moved to Indiana. There is a slight accent with the Hoosiers and some of the usage of certain words (see, saw, seen) make me cringe.

    Cindy W.

    • Cindy, I grew up in southern Indiana. I cringe at some at some of the word usage too.
      Here is a sample sentence. “I seen that pitcher of you.”
      I used to get in trouble for correcting people’s speech. Some Hoosiers have more of an accent than others, it’s very odd.

  3. Loved your post. So many if these sayings & words I’ve grown up with all my life. As a native Texan who now lives in Kansas, I still get funny looks when I speak my “native Texan”, it just cracks me up seeing people’s expressions. Thanks for bringing joy into my morning cup of coffee. This book sounds great.

    • My original list is three typed pages! LOL I had to pare it down…a lot! Next time I’m pulling out all the stops! You ladies read a lot of cowboy stories!! It’s hard to surprise you!! <3

  4. My favorite is in cahoots which I use all the time lol. I live in PA so not sure where I learned that saying. I do use you all too but my dad came from Mississippi so at least I know where that saying came from. Fun list.

    • Thanks, Gwen! What I’m loving most about this post is everyone saying how they grew up watching Westerns with their dads. That makes me smile big! Thanks for reading!! 🙂

  5. Amy, I really enjoyed reading about Cowboy lingo.
    Surprisingly, I was familiar with most of them. (probably
    from all those westerns I used to watch) However, I
    got a real a kick out of one in particular: “Bend an elbow.”
    The reason?
    In Puerto Rico they use the exact same phrase in
    Spanish: “Impinar el codo.”
    He likes to “bend an elbow” would be,
    Le gusta “impinar el codo.” ?

  6. Welcome to Wildflower Junction here at Petticoats and Pistols, Amy! I so enjoy different colloquialisms and the way people talk. I just went to a stage production of My Fair Lady with my mom and enjoyed all over again the fun they had with all the English pronunciations of words.

    I have a very “phrase-colorful” friend and I wish through the years that I had written down all of her sayings. Things like: “That (girl/guy) is one crayon short of a box” and many others that escape me right now.

    I enjoyed your post!

    • Thanks for having me, Kathryn. You may not realize it, but we have another connection…The Seymour Agency! Julie’s been telling me all about your books! 🙂

      I said the same thing about my dad and finally started writing them down. My favorite of his was “Stupid gone to seed.” LOL

      Thanks again!!

  7. Hi, Amy. I like your post. I know all of those idioms. I grew up in southern Indiana, they are very common there.
    I have a friend who says “son of a biscuit eater” and “two bricks shy of a full load”
    I also had a teacher that was fond of telling someone who made a mistake they “weren’t the sharpest pencil in the box.” He was a bully.
    I love cowboy speak. It’s fun to read, I always hear a bit of a twang as I’m reading it too.

    • Hmmmm…maybe it’s a ‘country thang.’ LOL Love son of a biscuit eater! Used to say that all the time. Then Will Ferrell and Elf happened and now I love ‘son of a nutcracker!” Thanks for reading! 🙂

  8. I am from the Northeast on the Canadian border and now live in NE TN. I was a bit surprised how many of the cowboy sayings I believe I grew up with. Childhood was a long time ago, a really long time ago. There is a chance that some was picked up from those wonderful TV western of the 50’s and 60’s, but they were still in common use up North. I did live in Colorado for 3 years and I believe I picked up Buckle bunny and cowboy up while there. I am now dealing with Southern idioms and believe me, they are much more confusing. Y’all is expanded to all y’all which included everybody. When asking someone to do something or go somewhere, they will respond with “I wouldn’t care to” which to this Yankee means no. Wrong, it means yes. If they feel something is overpriced, they will say “They sure do like their…..(chicken, book, car, whatever).

    • Patricia, I’m over here laughing! Maybe I should have included more southern sayings! LOL I’ve said both of the ones you’ve listed, though we usually said they were ‘proud of’ something to mean that it was expensive. And never forget, y’all is always plural. 😉

      • I guess overpriced and expensive could both be used. I saw a definition of the difference between y’all and all y’all but can’t remember what it was. Both plural anyway.

  9. I am like you, Amy…these just roll out of my mouth to! I am always saying, fixin to, meaning about to.

  10. I use a some of these myself. I am always giving my house a lick and a promise and I use a few of the others also.

  11. git her done

    coons age- I haven’t seen you in a coons age. a long time

    goober peas- peanuts

    I never heard of hoosegrow.

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