Western Slang, Lingo, and Phrases – A Writer’s Guide to the Old West

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Begins with “N”


Nailed to the Counter – Proven a lie.

Nairn – None

Namby-pamby – Sickly, sentimental, saccharin.

Nancy or Nancy-boy – An effeminate man.

A Nanny poses for the camera.

Nanny – A prostitute.

Nanny Shop – Brothel

Nary – None, not, zero

Nary-One – Neither.

Navy Model – Colt firearms.

Necessary – Outhouse, water closet; bathroom.

Neck Oil – Whiskey.

Necktie Social or Necktie Party – A hanging or lynching, most often referred to in vigilante hangings.

Nester – A squatter who settled on government land, usually to farm.

Nibbler – A petty thief.

Nibble – To take or steal.

Nigger In a Woodpile – Disappearance, unsolved mystery.

Nigh Unto – Nearly, almost.

Night Hawk – While the rest of the cowboys slept under the stars on a cattle drive, one unlucky soul who drew the short straw, the “night hawk”, had to stay up all night standing guard.

Nippent – Impudent, impertinent.

Nipper – A baby or small child.

Nobby, Nobbish – Fine, stylish.

No Count or No Account – Of no account, worthless.  “That no count boy does nothing but get into trouble.”

Nohow – Not at all, no way.

No Odds – No difference, no consequence, no matter.

Nose Paint – Whiskey.

Nosey Parker – Someone who is nosey.

Not By a Jugful – No consideration, on no account, not at all.

Notch – An opening or narrow passage through a mountain or hill.

Nothing To Nobody – Nobody’s business.

Notions – A wide range of miscellaneous articles for sale.

Nubbin – Saddle horn.

Nurly – A corrupt pronunciation of gnarly, i. e. gnarled.

Nymphs du Prairie – Prostitutes.



Begins with “O”



Oats – To feel one’s oats, is to feel one’s importance.

Odd Fish or Odd Stick – A person who is eccentric or odd in his manners. “Ol’ Farmer Jones sure is an odd stick.”

Off his nut, off his rocker, off his chump – Weak in the head, crazy, illogical; someone who behaves strangely.

Offish – Distant, reserved, aloof.

Off one’s feed – Unable to eat, having no appetite.

Of the First Water – First class. “He’s a gentleman of the first water.”

Oh-be-joyful – Liquor, beer, intoxicating spirits. “Give me another snort of that oh-be-joyful.”

Old – Crafty, cunning. If someone tries to take advantage of someone else, who is too cunning to be deceived, he might say “I’m a little too old for you.”

Old Betsy or Old Blue – A gun.

Old Country – A term applied to Great Britain, originally by natives from that country, who had immigrated to the United States.

Old Countryman – A native of England, Scotland, Ireland, or Wales. The term was never applied to persons from the Continent of Europe.

Old Dan – Often used to refer to a trustworthy mule.

Old Epharim – A term that mountain men called both male or female grizzly bears.

Old Man – The ridge found between two sleepers in a feather bed.

860 Whiskey Advertisement

Whiskey was called lots of names, one of which  was “Old Orchard.”

Old Orchard – Whiskey.

Old Pie – An expression of admiration or approval.

Old Pod – Old man.

Old Rackatee – A gun.

Old Rats – Equivalent to “one of the boys,” a hearty old fellow.

Old Scratch – The devil.

Old Stager – One well initiated in anything.

Old States – Back East.

Old Tom – Gin.

Old Towse – Whiskey

Oldermost – Oldest. “He’s the oldermost fellow at the reunion.”

On One’s Own Hook – On one’s own account, for himself. “He is doing business on his own hook.

Onplush – Nonplus.

Old Woman – The cowboy’s cook. Though the cook was often the most popular man on the cattle drive, cooking was still considered to be “women work.”

Oil – Nitroglycerine. Was often used to open bank vault. Also called “soup.”

One-horse – Small, limited, inferior. “Well, if that ain’t a one-horse town.”

On or In A Pinch – On an emergency.

On the Dead – Gratis, free.

On the Dodge – Hiding out somewhere; laying low for a while.

On the half-shell – Applied to anything prepared and ready for use.

On the Prod – Full of piss and vinegar, looking for trouble, spoiling for a fight. Said of both people and critters.

On the Shoot – Looking for trouble. “Looks like he’s on the shoot, tonight.”

On the Win – Winning or making money.

Oof – Money

Opine – To be of the opinion.

Ourn – Ours.

Outlaw – A horse that cannot be tamed to ride.

Over Head And Ears – Completely overwhelmed. “He was over head and ears in debt.”

Out And Out – Wholly, completely, without reservation.

Out-and-outer – First-class.

On The Fence – Neutral or undecided.

Out Of Fix or Out of Sorts – Disarranged, in a state of disorder.

Over-Careful – Very careful.

Overland Trout – Bacon.

Owdacious – Audacious.

Owl Hoot – An outlaw

Owl Hoot Trail – The outlaw way of life.

Oxbows – Large, old-time wooden stirrups. Also known as oxyokes.


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7 thoughts on “Western Slang, Lingo, and Phrases – A Writer’s Guide to the Old West”

  1. In an episode of “the life and legend of Wyatt Earp, the phrase ” I’ve been wanting to tree Wichita” was used, and I have heard this phrase in some “Death Valley Days” episodes. The phrase to tree a town is not defined in this web site. Can you find out what it means?

    1. Well, I think I got somewhat of an answer but I was a real cowboy quite a few times in my life..always country though but first Hollywood misuses phrases that I heard a lot..especially growing up in the Texas panhandle in the middle of no where so our kind of talk is becoming a thing of the past…but we said tree something fairly regular, using for things like..we were out hunting pheasant and a bobcat would tree us…as in run us up a tree..even though most of them cats can climb trees…I assure you…even with a shotgun in your hand…any kind of mountain lion or wild cat will leave you in fear and will do stupid shit…but you can imagine how we would use the phrase in a lot of other instances like you were scared and backed up or some such like that…but I’m on here trying to find a good word for a song I’m trying to write about Billy the kid so…if anyone’s got a good thought for shooting a gun slinger in the old West… That might sound better than shoot…I realize someone claiming to be one of the last country folk around writing a country song…but I’ve found a lot of them are musicians…we kind of were out off necessity from there not being anything to do in the middle of no where other than play music with each other so…I really would welcome any input any one on here might have for the song as I’m not great at navigating the internet

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