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

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Begins with “P”


Pack Iron – To carry a revolver or “shooting iron.”

Paddle – To go or run away.

Paint – A horse with irregular patches of white. Kin to Indian ponies, they were strong and tough but never grew very big. Also refers to drinking, alluding to the red nose caused by over-indulgence.

Painted Cat – Prostitute.

Painted Lady – A prostitute.

Painter – In the country a popular name for cougar or panther.

Paintin’ His Nose – Getting drunk.

Painting One’s Tonsils – Drinking alcohol, also referred to as ‘Painting one’s nose.”

Pair Of Stairs – A flight of stairs.

Painting the Town Red

“Painting The Town Red” – A wood engraving by R.F. Zogbaum, in Harper’s Weekly, October 16, 1886.

Painting the Town Red – Going out on the town for a fun, sometimes wild, time.

Pair of Overalls – Two drinks of whiskey.

Pal on – to associate.

Pancake – A derogatory term for a small English saddle.

Pan Out – To pay well, prove profitable.

Parade Chaps – A pair of chaps strictly for show. Might be worn for the grand entry parade at a rodeo.

Pass in one’s chips – To die.

Pay Dirt – When prospectors find valuable minerals they had hit “pay dirt.”

Peacemaker – A Colt revolver.

Peaked – Thin or sickly in appearance.

Pecker Pole – What a logger called a small tree or sapling.

Peck Of Trouble – Great trouble.

Pecker – Appetite.

Peckish – Hungry.

Peck – Eat voraciously

Pedlar’s Pony – A walking stick.

Pecos –  To kill by drowning. (Literally, to throw into the Pecos River.)

Pecos Strawberries – Beans.

Pemican – Easily carried food substance on the frontier. Formed by pounding the choice parts of the meat very small, dried over a slow fire or in the frost, and put into bags made of the skin of the slain animal, into which a portion of melted fat is then poured.

Penny Dreadful – A slang term for cheap, lurid fictional magazines that incorporated the same kind of literature as the dime novels. Later generations would call them pulp fiction.

Pennyweighter – In the mining camps of the Old West, a pennyweighter was a person who stole very small quantities of gold from the mining operation for whom he worked.

Perk – Lively, brisk, holding up the head

Persnickity – Peculiar, picky.

Persuader – A gun.

Pertend Up – Better, more cheerful.

Peskily – Very, extremely, confoundedly. “I’m peskily sorry to hear of your loss.”

Petticoat Pensioner – A man who lives on a prostitute’s earnings. Also called Sunday-man.

Picayune – Used to signify something small or frivolous.

Pickaninny – A negro or mulatto infant. Used in the Southern States.

Pick-Back – On the back. Often used when carrying children on the back – piggyback.

Picture – One’s face or one’s person.

Piddle – Waste time.

Piebald – A Paint horse.

Cowgirl 1909

In the ole’ days, some might have called this cowgirl a “piece of calico.”

Piece of Calico – A girl or a woman.

Piece of Pudding – A piece of luck, a welcome change.

Piece of Thick – Pressed cake tobacco.

Pied – A paint horse.

Pie Eater – Country boy, a rustic.

Pig Sticker – Knife or bayonet.

Pig Trail – Small side road.

Pike – A name applied in California to migratory poor whites.

Pilgrim – Cowboy term for an easterner or novice cowhand.

Pill – A doctor.

Pilled – Black-balled.

Pimping – Little, petty.

Pimple – The cowboy’s name for the very small saddles used by Easterners.

Pine Top – Whiskey traded to the Indians in exchange for buffalo robes.

Pining Away For – Longing for.

Pink – Denotes the finest part, the essence. She is the pink of perfection.

Pinto – A paint horse.

Pirooting –  Having sexual intercourse.

Pistareen – One-fifth of a dollar, a silver coin, formerly in the United States, of the value of twenty cents.

Pitch a Fit – To throw a temper tantrum, get upset.

Placer – Comes from the Spanish word for gravel beds. Prospectors would scoop some dirt and water into a pan, swish it to wash the gravel away, and look for good in the bottom.

Plain-headed – A term that expresses that a lady is not good looking.

Plaguily – Vexatiously, horribly. “I am puzzled most plaguily to get words to tell you what I think.”

Plank, Plank Down, Plank Up – To pay in cash.

Plaster – Flatter

Play a Lone Hand – To do something alone.

Play Second Fiddle – To “play second fiddle” is to take an inferior part in any project or undertaking.

Play to the Gallery – To show off. “That’s just how he is, always has to play to the gallery.”

Played out – Exhausted.

Plow Chaser – A derogatory term for farmer.

Plow Handle – A single action pistol was sometime referred to as a plow handle. These were also referred to as “thumbusters,” “cutters,” “smoke poles,” and “hawg legs.”

To Plum – To deceive.

Plumb, Plum – Entirely, completely. “He’s plumb crazy.”

Plummy – Satisfactory or profitable.

Plunder – Personal belongings or baggage. “Pack your plunder, Joe, we’re headin’ for San Francisco.”

Poke – A small sack, usually made of leather or rawhide. Also refers to a lazy person, a dawdler. “What a slow poke you are.”

Poke-Bonnet – A long, straight bonnet, much worn by Quakers and Methodists.

Poker – Any frightful object, especially in the dark.

Pokerish – Frightful, causing fear, especially to children.

El Paso Texas Pokey

Pokey – Jail

Pony Up – Pay over money. “Pony up that account.” Also, post the pony, i.e. lay down the money.

Poppet – Term of endearment. “Come along, poppet.”

Poppy-Cock – Bosh, nonsense, idle talk.

Pop Skull – Whiskey.

Pop Your Corn – Say what you have to say, speak out.

Porch Percher – A town loafer.

Portage – To carry boats or supplies overland between rivers or lakes.

Portmantle – A valise.

Post the Pony – Pay up.

Pot Rustler – Cook.

Pot Shot – An Easy shot.

Power – A large quantity, a great number.

Pow-Wow – Native American feasts, dances and public doings.

Prairie Coal – Cowchips.

Prairie Dew – Whiskey.

Prairie Oysters – Fried or roasted calves’ testicles. Also called Mountain Oysters.

Prairie Pancakes – Cowchips.

Prairie Tenor – Coyote.

Prairillon – A small prairie.

Prat – Buttock, behind.

Prayer Book – A packet of papers used to roll cigarettes. Also called a “dream book” or a “bible.”

Pray Tell – Tell me.

Predicate – A proposition or argument.

Prehaps – Perhaps.

Priminary – Predicament, difficulty.

Prod, On the – Spoiling for a fight, also referred to as “proddy.”

Prog – Food, provisions of any kind.

Frontier Slang, Lingo & Phrases Book by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

More Terms, Expanded Definitions + Reverse Lookup + More Pictures

Pshal, P’shaw – An exclamation for nonsense.

Pucker – In a state of irritation or anger.

Puddin’ Foot – An awkward horse.

Pull in your Horns – Back off, quit looking for trouble.

Pull Foot – To leave in a hurry, walk fast, run.

Pull the Leg – To impose upon.

Pull the Long Bow – To tell falsehoods, lie.

Pullin my donkey’s tail – A much older way of saying “are you pullin my leg”

Pulling a Kite – Making a face.

Pulling in the Pieces – To make money.

Punching Doggies – Cowpunching, driving the cattle to market.

Pung – A rude sort of sleigh, or oblong box made of boards and placed on runners, used for drawing loads on snow by horses.

Purge – Beer.

Push Your Barrow – Go away.

Put a Spoke in the Wheel – To foul up or sabotage something.

Put on the Nose Bag – To eat.

Put the Licks In – Run very fast.



Begins with “Q”


Queer Fish – An odd or eccentric person. Also called odd stick and odd fish.

Quincy – An indoor toilet.

Quirley – Roll-your-own cigarette.

Quirt – Whip

Quid – A corruption of cud, as, in vulgar language, a quid of tobacco.


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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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