January 31, 2008

#01-069: Cowboy Talk - Part I

a heavily stylized, painterly brown-and-white image of John Wayne in cowboy clothes, a still from the film "Rio Bravo"
John Wayne, the greatest cowboy star of all time

Note: Many of the colorful expressions used by America's cowboys can--spice up your speech--if used with caution!

Get Ready: Have you ever heard "cowboy talk" in a movie or TV show? What is it like?

English has been spoken by all kinds of people. Many groups have contributed to a rich, picturesque vocabulary.

Today we'll look at some expressions used by America's cowboys. Many of them are seldom used, but others have become part of our everyday speech. All of them are colorful, though, and can put some real zip into your speech (but be careful not to use them in formal situations).

Read the following conversation between two cowboys, and keep an eye out for "cowboy talk."

Tex: Hey there, Rowdy.

Rowdy: Howdy, Tex. What's new?

Tex: Not much. Say, see that dude over there?

Rowdy: You mean the one with the shiny shoes and the brand-new suit?

Tex: That's the one. You know, he may not look like much, but that guy is ace-high with me!

Rowdy: How's that?

Tex: Well, the other night I was bending an elbow with a couple of the boys, and a fella came into the saloon and announced he was gonna clean my plow.

Rowdy: Really?

Tex: Yeah! Said I had dry-gulched him at poker the night before, and if I didn't fork over the money he lost, he'd put me in the bone orchard for sure.

Rowdy: So what happened?

Tex: Well, sir, that dude came over and whispered something in the fella's ear, and he turned all white and slunk out the door!

Rowdy: Well, bully for the dude! What did he say?

Tex: I have no idea, but it worked! Hey, I gotta get a wiggle on. If I ain't home by ten, Martha says I'm a goner.

Rowdy: Then you'd better git! See ya around, pardner.

Tex: Adios!

See what I mean about the zip?


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cowboy

Practice: Here are ten of the "cowboy" terms Tex and Rowdy used in their conversation. See if you can guess the meaning from the way they used the terms above. After you check your answers (in the first comment to this lesson) read the explanations below.

  1. ace-high
  2. bend an elbow
  3. bone orchard
  4. bully
  5. clean one's plow
  6. dry gulch
  7. dude
  8. fork over
  9. get a wiggle on
  10. goner

  1. a well-dressed person, usually from "back East"
  2. cemetery
  3. first-class, or well-respected
  4. give, or pay out
  5. have a drink
  6. hurry
  7. someone or something that is gone, or perhaps dead
  8. to ambush, or attack without warning
  9. to beat up
  10. "Wonderful!" "Great!"

Answers are in the first comment below.

Explanation of the Answers: After you check your answers in the first comment below, read the little explanation I've given you here, followed by a "cowboy use" and a "business use" (usually).

1. ace-high: a reference to playing cards, where the ace is sometimes counted as the lowest card (like "one") and sometimes the highest.

  • That bronco [a kind of horse] is ace-high in my book.
  • ABC Company's reputation is ace-high in their field.

2. bend an elbow: as when one brings a drink to one's lips

  • That fella's been known to bend an elbow now and again.
  • Let's go out and bend an elbow after work.

3. bone orchard: An apple orchard grows apples, so... Not recommended for business use.

  • After he lost the gunfight, they planted him in the bone orchard.
  • One more bad quarter and that company's gonna end up in the bone orchard.

4. bully: often associated with President Teddy Roosevelt

  • Tex: "I won at cards last night!" Rowdy: "Bully!"
  • Joe: "I got a raise!" Fred: "Bully for you!"

5. clean one's plow: a plow is used to prepare earth for planting seeds; it is cleaned after use, so when your plow is cleaned, it may mean you are finished.

  • Hoss didn't like the way Little Joe was talking, so he cleaned his plow.
  • The competition really cleaned our plow last quarter.

6. dry gulch: a "dry gulch" is a riverbed or streambed with no water, a bad situation

  • Them bandits dry-gulched us; we never seen 'em coming.
  • We were dry-gulched by our competitor's viral advertising campaign.

7. dude: In modern times, this has become a slang term for any man.

  • Take a look at that dude over there in them fancy clothes.
  • Hey, dude, how ya doin'?

8. fork over: perhaps like using a pitchfork, a kind of tool for moving hay

  • Put your hands in the air and fork over the strongbox.
  • We'll get the boss to fork over our commissions early.

9. get a wiggle on: to "wiggle one's legs" might mean to move quickly

  • We're gonna hafta get a wiggle on if we're gonna meet the noon train.
  • If we don't get a wiggle on, the competition's going to get all the advertising.

10. goner: The meaning is clear.

  • If we don't get him to the doc soon, he's a goner.
  • No one's buying this product; I'm afraid it's a goner.

Here are a few more words Tex and Rowdy use:
  • Howdy: "Hello" (from "How do you do")
  • saloon: a western-style bar
  • ain't: an informal way to say "am not" (or "aren't" or "isn't")
  • git: go; move along ("get")
  • pardner: friend ("partner")
  • Adios: "Goodbye" (in Spanish)

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 31, 2008

This lesson received 103 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and July, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. e; 3. b; 4. j; 5. i; 6. h; 7. a; 8. d; 9. f; 10. g