Fun Things About the Ol’ West

I love research, particularly about the old west. I could get lost in it and a lot of the times I do. Please don’t get me wrong, I love to write, but if I ever had to make a choice between researching for a book and writing one, I’m not sure but I think I’d go with the research.

I thought it’d be fun to blog about western terminology and some of the things I’ve learned from researching the Old West, particularly since I was born and raised in Texas. Now here’s my first comment … we’ve always used born and raised then when I began writing, I got heavily edited with “you raise corn, you rear children”. Now that’s changed back to born and raised.

Many of the jargon popular back in western times are still used today.

  • Wild-cow milking: When sister Filly Linda Brody, Jodi Thomas, and the late DeWanna Pace and I began to write our anthology Give Me a Cowboy we had already decided that we’d have a 4th of July Rodeo take place in Kasota Springs, Texas, over four days. There were a lot of things that we had to iron out for consistency sake. I had to have a rainy day, so we had to make sure one day it rained. But, the funniest thing that happened was choosing events, so we didn’t duplicate. In the 1800’s there were only a limited number of events to choose from. I love the rodeo, so I had my mind set on bull riding. Linda and Jodi selected their events first … not bull riding, so I knew I had my event in the bag! But one problem, Dee selected hers next and since her brother was a champion bull rider … oh yes, you guessed it, she asked for bull riding. I took a deep breath and the only event left was wild cow milking. So, I smiled and enjoyed learning about this part of a rodeo. In the long run, I probably had more fun writing the scene where my hero and heroine were teamed up for this event and it began to rain. I’m not gonna tell you anything else, but if you haven’t read Give Me a Cowboy I think you’d enjoy what could happen in a wet arena with two people attracted to one another when they are trying to hold down a cow and milk her.  Of interest, the wild cow milking event came into existence because they had to bring calves for roping and of course they couldn’t separate the mama’s and their calf, so thus wild cow milk came about.
  • Chute Rooster: This was another term I learned through research and used for the same story. A chute rooster is a rodeo-wise boy who perched on top of the chutes and knew how everything should be done and didn’t mind telling about it.
  • Doggone: A wild slang expression. Whenever he could think of it, a cowboy used this term around womenfolks. I still use it.
  • Salty Dog: A man who was considered better than anyone else in his line, whether it was shooting, roping, riding, cattle rustling, holding up trains and stagecoaches, or just “plumb ornery”. Dog was also one of the old-time cowboy’s terms for bacon. When it was salty, it was “salty dog”.
  • Dofunny: The cowboy’s expression for a useless object.
  • Bible Two: A term used by Texas Rangers for the list of outlaws published every year by the Adjutant General’s Office. It was said that at one time the Texas Rangers had a list of over 5,000 desperadoes wanted by the law.
  • Hog-tied: I love this one. When a cowboy got “hog-tied” by a female he was no longer a cowboy but a cowman. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.
  • Vamoose: The cowboy used this word several different ways, but basically it meant “to move on” or “let go”. The word came from the Spanish vamos, which means “we go”. It’s still used today in our neck of the woods.
  • Cross Draw: The act of drawing a pistol with the right hand when it was worn on the left side. The sidearm was carried either in the waistband of the trousers or in a holster with the butt of the gun forward. The gunfighter had to cross his arm over to whip it out. When two guns were worn, both with butts forward, the gunfighter employed a “cross-arm draw” to take them out. This has been used many times in Westerns over the years.
  • Critter: Chiefly a term for a cow, but it could be any animal. We still use it today.
  • Road Brand: This was the light brand placed on cattle sufficient to “last up the trail” to the shipping point when different brands were in the same herd. Once the cattle were sold, the rancher would change to their own brand.
  • Hollow Horn: I found this particularly interesting. It is a disease that puzzled the tenderfoot. Cows’ horns simply dropped off after a freeze. Of course, they were hollow, thus the term hollow horn.
  • Liquored up: Has only been around since the early twenty century, but most everybody knows that it means “drunk”.
  • Larruppin’: One of my favorites. Larruppin’ good means excellent, especially with food.

What old terms do you use in your daily life?  What is your favorite?

To one two lucky readers I will send you an autographed copy of Give Me a Cowboy. If you already have one, I’ll give you an eBook copy of my latest western contemporary romance Out of a Texas Night, which have many of the founders of Kasota Springs, three to five generations later in it.

I wish to give credit to Bruce Grant and his book The Cowboy Encyclopedia because I mixed some of my own terminology with some of his. Thank you.

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A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

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36 thoughts on “Fun Things About the Ol’ West”

  1. Awesome blog Phyliss. Since I grew up with a dad who called roped, “ A Wrap & A Hoovy was always used. That’s the tying of the calf with a pigging string.
    Flank was another one, that’s what it means to well “flank a calf”
    ( throw it to the ground to tie).
    There are so many terminology words, I’ll have to scratch my early morning brain fog.
    But who could ever not agree on BORN and RAISED In Texas. Well I guess a person NOT lucky enough to be born and raised the the GREATEST state, country God created. I might live in Kansas for work, but I’ll forever be TEXAN!

    • I bet rodeo terminology throws people who don’t know anything about rodeos way off especially when they’re used outside the rodeo arena to describe situations.

    • Hi Miss Tonya. Good to hear from you. I’m not a horsewoman, (but I’ve ridden and have been on several ranches) and have certain heard about flanking, but never “A Wrap & A Hoovy” Very cool. We really don’t even realize just how many old, old words we use daily and don’t even give a thought to them. One of my favorite talks was at several of our conferences when we had editors and agents from other parts of the US, particularly, New York. I talk about the terminology and it was so much fun. I still have my notes. Born and raised is sure correct, as far as I’m concerned. Our youngest daughter and her family live in Kansas, I think you know that, but they’ll always be Texans! I only have one grandchild who wasn’t born in Texas and he wants to come back and become Governor. Now that’s a true Texan, whether he was born here on not. Remember the sayin’ … if you ever wear out a pair of shoes in Texas, you’ll always be a Texan? So true. You might leave the state but will never forget it! Big hugs, my precious friend.

  2. But of course, a Texas phrase (possibly southern but…) that I use daily and my autocorrect no longer tries to correct is Y’all. I mean “you all doesn’t ever even sound right to this Texan. I also use “fix’in to” and “lil” instead of little on a regular basis! A fun phrase we Texans use that Northerners don’t get is “bless your heart” as you know it’s mostly not used as a sympathy phrase. Great blog, it was fun! Have a Happy Halloween!

    • You pegged them Miss Stephanie. Another is Come, to a TEXAN a come can be whatever soft drink you want, but they are all COKES. Up here in KS soda, pop just floors me! Lol

      • Of yes, Coke can mean any soft drink! My grandmother used pop so that would not throw me. When I was really young she used “polly pop” enough grandkids made fun of that one that she quit using it and used pop. As time went on she finally switched to soda to satisfy even younger grandkids. Lol

      • Oh for sure on the Cokes! As a teenager, we’d go on Coke dates, whether we drank root beer or a Dr. Pepper. We still call any soda drink a Coke in this part of the woods! Thanks for the memories. I bet my daughter who lives in Kansas and the family still call a soft drink a Coke. I’ll have to ask her. Big smiles with many, many memories. My first kiss was on a Coke date with a family friend, who my parents were close to his parents. And, trust me it was nothing but a short “kiss”!!!!!! LOL Have a great one, friend. Hugs, P

    • Hi Miss Stephanie. So good to hear from you. I love y’all and use it all of the time. BTW you know that y’all can mean one person or a group of people, but if you want to make sure it includes everyone then it’s all y’all!!! LOL I use fixin’ all of the time. Part of my talk I referred to in Tonya’s comments is fixin’. I’m fixin’ to go to the store to get the fixin’s to fix dinner! Of course, Bless your heart is so southern! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog and I hope you and yours have a Happy, Happy Halloween, too! Big hugs, Phyliss

  3. Tonya Lucas October 29, 2019 at 5:12 am
    OPPS I guess I need to double check my spelling.
    Let’s try again
    You pegged them Miss Stephanie. Another is Coke, to a TEXAN a Coke can be whatever soft drink you want, but they are all COKE’S, Up here in KS soda, pop just floors me! Lol

    • Hi Kim, good to hear from you. Yes, for sure, some of our Southern terminology throws people off, particularly in the publishing world. Since I’m with one of the major NYC houses, I get a copy editor every now and again who doesn’t know “Texan” and since I write contemporary romances set in this part of the country, I have to stay true to myself, my characters, and our heritage. I’ve had three editors in a row who understood “Texan”, so that was really nice! Have a great one. Hugs, Phyliss

    • Thanks, Debra, for stopping by and reading my blog. Thanks for the compliment. I bet if you give it some thought you have terms from your part of the country that is distinct to there. Have a great day and I appreciate you. Hugs, Phyliss

  4. I love your post, Phyliss! I am Texan through and through and there are so many terms we have and use. Y’all, gotcha, kinda, ….the list goes on and on. ?

    • Hi Melanie, a true Texan through and through! Brother do I understand that. Totally agree with y’all! My auto correct works overtime when I’m writing a book, but it’s so much fun to share our “sayings”, I guess they’d be called, with other folks who don’t know about it. And, yes, our list could go on and on. Have a great day, and thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. Hugs, Phyliss

    • Hi Kathy, thanks for dropping by and reading my blog. Glad you had fun reading it. Hope you have a wonderful rest of the day, Hugs, Phyliss

    • Hi Teresa, good to see you! I’m smiling at the word “lesson”. It’s so much fun. I’m trying to break myself of using some of the words, but just cain’t do it!!!! LOL Hope you have a wonderful rest of the day. Hugs, Phyliss

  5. A term I use often is lick your calf over, which means if you don’t do it right the first time you can just do it again until you get it right.

    • Hi Quilt Lady, good to hear from you. Yes, that’s a good one! I’ve heard and used it all of my life. Thanks for adding an excellent and popular one to the list. Love it! Hope you have a wonderful day. Hugs, Phyliss

  6. Coming from the east coast the only two familiar to me is Higgins & vamoose. But you’ll hear me using doggone quite a bit in front of my grandkids. ?

    • Hi Carol, so good to hear from you. I’m glad I selected some phrases that aren’t just Texan. And, yes doggone is a great one. I usually say “doggone it” meaning “shucks” which is short for … well you all know! Thanks for the addition to our list. Hope you have a wonderful day. Hugs, Phyliss

    • Hi Caryl, good to hear from you. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I use critter a lot, and although the source I used indicated it was basically a cow or a big animal of some sort, here in the south it can be anything from a roach to a coyote! If it’s got legs, it can be a critter! Have a wonderful day! Hugs, Phyliss

  7. I don’t know that I have a favorite, but we certainly say a lot in the South. I also use y’all and fixin’. I don’t say it, but I’ve heard older folks call peanuts “goobers”.

    Thanks for the chance to win the book. Your story sounds fun!

    • Hi Linda, good to hear from you. Yep, y’all and fixin’ are basics for us. I’d forgotten but my grandparents and I believe my mother and aunt, who were from Louisiana before they moved to Texas, called peanuts goobers. Thanks for a fantastic addition to our list and bringing back some wonderful memories for me. All names are put in a hat, and maybe you’ll be our winner. It is a fun book and we enjoyed writing it. As a matter of fact, Sister Filly Linda Brody and I had a strong, sassy mother-daughter team in our two stories. She had the mother and I used the daughter. And, I’ve loved writing modern day characters from these founding fathers of Kasota Springs. Hope you have a wonderful day. Hugs, Phyliss

    • Hi Colleen, thanks for dropping by and reading my blog. I’ve learned so much today from readers who left comments. I love to learn and, as I said in my blog, research is my favorite, whether I use it or not right away. Once we stop learning, we’ll all stop growing in more way than one. I hope you have a wonderful day. Hugs, Phyliss

  8. Larruppin’is a word with several variant spellings. There was a restaurant locally called Laurrapin for a while. They were forever trying to explain the name. lol

    I use southern phrases I’ve learned from my dad and grandparents. Mostly, I use proper grammar, but it’s not unusual for me to reckon or be fixin’ to.

    • Hi Denise, so good to hear from you. Interesting about Laurrapin spelling. Fun, fun! I’m like you, I do try to use proper grammar, but in my day to day talkin’, I go Southern. I also learned much of mine from my grandparents. I hope you have a wonderful evening. Hugs, Phyliss

  9. I enjoyed this, Phyliss. It sort of reminds me of Festus on Gunsmoke. I love when he says ‘down yonder’ and ‘What in tarnation’! I didn’t know what ‘doggone’ and ‘hog-tied’ meant in Western terminology. They’re both sweet. And when I’ve seen the term ‘Salty Dog’ I’ve always thought of something nautical. In fact, in my area there is a small restaurant/carry-out named Salty Dog, they have the best steamed crabs, soft crabs, and fried oyster sandwiches! Never knew what ‘Salty Dog’ meant in Western terminology though. Very interesting!

  10. Hi Sharon, thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I think you’re right about reminding me of Festus, too. I use “What in the tarnation”. I’m like you about Salty Dog. I’d heard it but never knew the its meaning, but the word does make sense. Yummy on the restaurant! I use dog gone and hog-tied. I hope you have a wonderful evening. Hugs, Phyliss

  11. Born and raised is certainly what we all are. Never heard of being born and reared. How funny! One of my favorite sayings is God willing and the creek don’t rise. Another is can’t dance and it’s too wet to plow.

  12. It’s the Texas drawl, I like the one “We live across the pasture” The book looks very nice. Thank you for sharing this, I enjoyed reading it. I am from Texas. Have a Great week. God Bless you. Thank you for the chance.

  13. Thanks so much for the lingo lesson. There were many of the older ones I had not heard before. I like Dofunny. It is not anything I have heard before, but just strikes a nerve.
    Road brands are a new one to me . It makes perfect sense to do this, but it made rustlers’ job much easier.

    I have all the anthologies in the series GIVE ME A COWBOY is in. They are great.

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