May 15, 2008

#01-109: Cowboy Talk - Part IV

a cow or steer with extremely long horns stands in profile in a brushy area, facing the camera
Pull in your horns, there, partner!

Note: Just pull in your horns and don't get your back up: this roundup of cowboy slang's about to peter out, and you'll be done!

Get Ready: What's the farthest you've ever had to walk--not by choice? Why did you have to do it?

Starting with Lesson #01-069, and carrying on with #01-107 and #01-108, we have finally reached the "end of the trail" for our roundup of cowboy slang. Hope you've learned from it--and had some fun!

  1. get (or have) one's back up: get (or be) angry. You can see this behavior in cats; when they get angry, their back literally rises, as well as the hair on it. "Don't get your back up about losing the project, Jim; you'll get another one."

  2. hold a candle to: compare to; measure up to. Some say this refers to a low-level worker "holding the candle" for a more experienced one as he works, but this is in doubt. "Our new boss is OK, but he can't hold a candle to our old one."

  3. peter out: run out gradually. Though the derivation is unknown, it was first used in the context of mining. The miners would follow a vein of gold or other ore until it "petered out." "The sales campaign was going well, but then the prospects just petered out."

  4. pull in your horns: back down; back off. You can easily imagine how dangerous a cow's horns are. If the horns are extended, or sticking out, they would be even worse. So "pulling them in" would make things more comfortable for everyone. "All right, Mike, pull in your horns and we'll discuss the matter rationally."

  5. ride (or go) shank's mare: walk, or travel on foot. "Shank" refers to the lower part of the leg; a mare is a female horse. So this is a sort of joke; to go "by shank's mare" means to walk. "Taxis will be hard to get at this time of night; we may have to ride shank's mare."

  6. roundup: a gathering; collection. Also, a summary. To "round up" cows was to gather them together. This was a time of celebration, called a roundup. Nowadays we also use it in expressions like a "news roundup" between commercials on TV. "John, give us a roundup of the quarter's results before we close the meeting."

  7. shoot one's mouth off: talk out of turn, often rudely. Perhaps a reference to the use of a gun. "If you keep shooting your mouth off in meetings, Bill, you're going to get fired."

  8. skedaddle: run; leave in a hurry. It originated on Civil War battlefields, but the derivation is uncertain. "I have to skedaddle; see ya later."

  9. stumped: confused; baffled. It may refer to the difficulty in removing a tree stump when clearing a field. "I hope you can make sense of these figures; I'm stumped."

  10. tenderfoot: a beginner, a "newbie." One whose feet had not become accustomed to cowboy boots yet. "Let's not give too much responsibility to Yates; he's still a tenderfoot."

Remember: Use these with caution to liven up your speech. Otherwise, just learn to recognize their meaning when you hear them.


Read more:

Practice: Use one of the above terms in each of the following sentences. Be sure to use the correct form (for example, plural or past tense).

  1. Mark's working on the sales report, and he's __________. Can we send someone from accounting to help him?
  2. Someone from HQ will be presenting a __________ of the new HR policies.
  3. That boss has a foul temper. He always __________ about something.
  4. Everyone has to work harder when management puts a __________ on the team.
  5. If you'll just __________ for a minute, we'll get payroll on the phone and find out what happened to your check.
  6. I'm afraid our enterprise software can't __________ the package at my old company.
  7. You look like you're about to __________. Can I catch a ride with you?
  8. If we don't make some sales soon, the cash in our operating account is going to __________.
  9. If the company takes away our company car perk, we'll all find ourselves __________.
  10. Marv __________ once too often and lost our biggest customer.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 15, 2008

This lesson received 173 visits on my old site between March, 2012, and July, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. f; 3. a (has his back up); 4. j; 5. d (pull in your horns); 6. b; 7. h; 8. c; 9. e (riding [or going] shank's mare); 10. g (shot his mouth off)