Printers Row Publishing Group:


He's a Curly Wolf and Other Cowboy Slang

June 28, 2016

Real cowboy slang of the late 19th century was a lot different from the way it’s been depicted in movies and on TV. 
Cowboy Slang

Coffee boiler:

A lazy person who sits around the coffee pot instead of helping with the work.

Big bug:

Important person; big shot.

Bone orchard:


The boss:

The best.

He only gave it a lick and a promise:

He did a poor job.

Crow bait:

A poor-quality horse.

Shin out:

To run away.

Clean someone’s plow:

To beat them up.

You’re all down but nine:

You don’t understand—refers to missing all the pins in a game of nine-pin bowling.

Coffin varnish:

Bad coffee.

Grub-line rider:

Someone who travels from ranch to ranch looking for work.

Curly wolf:

A very tough, very dangerous person.

Flannel mouth:

A smooth talker.

California widow:

A wife who lives apart from her husband because he has gone West to seek his fortune.

Gospel sharp:

A preacher. (As skilled with the Bible as a card sharp is with cards.)


A cigarette you roll yourself.

Cowboy change:

Bullets (sometimes used as quarters or dimes when coins were short).

Fightin’ wages:

Extra money paid to cowboys for fighting Indians or cattle rustlers.

Take French leave:

To desert, or leave without permission.


An Easterner or well-dressed person (they wear “duds”).

Someone to ride the river with:

Someone dependable.

Beat the Devil around the stump:

To procrastinate.


The eyelet at the end of a lasso that’s used to make the loop.
Uncle John's Curiously Compelling Bathroom Reader

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