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

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Begins with “U”


Ugly as a Mud Fence – Used to describe someone who was very ugly.

Uncorkin’ a Bronc – Breaking a horse.

Unmentionables – Underwear.

Unsalted – Fresh, green, young, inexperienced.

Unshucked – Cowboy talk for naked. An unshucked gun is one that’s out of the holster.

Unwound – A horse bucking.

Up a Tree, Treed – In difficulty, cornered, unable to do anything.

Uppish – Proud, insolent.

Upper Story – The brain, the head. “He’s not right in his upper story.”

Dustbowl Farm Near Dalhart Texas, 1938

This farm was left to go “up the spout” after the dust bowl days. Image from 1938 near Dalhart, Texas.

Up the Spout – Gone to waste or ruin.

Up Stakes – To depart in a hurry. Same as “cut stick.”

Up To The Hub – To the extreme point.

Up To Snuff – To be flash, to be shrewd.

Up the Spout – Imprisoned.

Up To Trap – Knowing, shrewd.


Begins with “V”


Valley Tan – A kind of liquor sold in Mormon Country.

Vamoose – To disappear or leave quickly.

Vaulting House – Brothel.

Velvet Couch – A cowboy’s bedroll.

Vamos – A Spanish word signifying let us go.

Varmint – A corrupt pronunciation of the word vermin.

Vission Quest – An attempt to achieve a vision of a future guardian spirit, traditionally undertaken at puberty by boys of the Plains Indian peoples, typically through fasting or self-torture.

Vum – A form of swearing. “I vum!” similary to “I vow!”



Begins with “W”


Wabble – Make free use of one’s tongue, to be a ready speaker.

Waddy – One of the words for cowboy, especially a cowboy who drifted from ranch to ranch and helped out in busy times.

Wag-tail – A prostitute.

Wait On – To court.

Wake Snakes – To raise a ruckus.

Wake up/Woke up the Wrong Passenger – To trouble or anger the wrong person.

Walk The Chalk – Walk straight.

Wall – Roll your eyes.

Wamble-Cropped – Sick at the stomach, and figuratively, wretched, humiliated.

Wampum – In the Massachusetts Indian language, this word means white, or the color of shells.

Wap – To throw quickly, to flap

War Bag – Cowboys traveled light, and stored their meager worldly possessions in his “war bag”. Inside was generally everything he owned, typically an extra set of clothes, extra ammunition, spare parts for equipment, playing cards, bill of sale for his horse, and maybe a harmonica or a few precious letters. Also called a “war sack” and a “yannigan bag.”

War Bonnet – Hat.

Washy – Weak, not firm or hardy.

Wasp Nest – Light bread.

Wattles – Ears.

Wax – In a rage.

Way-Bill – A list of the passengers in a stage-coach, railroad car, steamboat, or other public conveyance.

Wearing the Bustle Wrong – Referring to a pregnant woman.

Weather-Breeder – A cloudless sky, after a succession of rainy weather, denotes rain, and is said to be a weatherbreeder

Charm East Tobacco 1872

Tobacco was often referred to as “weed.”

Weed – A common term for tobacco.

Well To Live – To be in easy circumstances, to live comfortably.

Whack – To share.

Whacker – Anything very large, same as a “whopper.”

Whale Away – To preach, talk or lecture continuously or vehemently.

Whang – Sinews of the buffalo or other animal, or small strips of thin deer-skin, used by the dwellers and hunters of the prairies for sewing.

Whaling – A lashing, a beating.

Whaler – A big, strapping fellow.

Whap – A quick and smart stroke.

Whapper or Whopper – Anything uncommonly large, as, ‘That’s a whopper,’ meaning a monstrous lie.

Whapping – Very large.

What in the Tarnation – A polite way of saying “What the hell?”

To Wheal – To swell.

Wheel-Horse – An intimate friend, one’s right hand man.

Whelk – An old name for a pustule, a pimple. The word is not much used in America.

Whelky – Protuberant, rounded.

Whim-Wham – A toy, a freak, a strange fancy.

Whip-belly – Bad beer.

Whistle Berries – Beans.

White Eye – Maize whiskey.

White-Eyed – Exhausted.

White Liner – An alcoholic.

White Tape, White Wine – Gin

Whitewash – To gloss over or hide one’s faults or shortcomings.

Whittled – Drunk

Who-Hit-John – Liquor, beer, intoxicating spirits. “He had a little too much who-hit-John.”

Whole Hog – All the way, all of it. “Go the whole hog!”

Whole Kit and Caboodle – The entire thing.

Whomper-jawed – Uneven.

Whoremonger – A man who frequents prostitutes.

Whuppin – Spanking.

Wicket – A place of shelter, or camp made of the boughs of trees.

Widow – The gallows.

Widow Maker – A very bad or “outlaw” horse.

Wigging – A rebuke.

Wild Mare’s Milk – Whiskey.

Wild West Weekly – Pulp or “dime” novels.

Windies – Tall Tales.

Winsome – Lively, cheerful, gay.

Wipe Your Chin – Be quiet.

Wolfer – A man with a large appetite or a hard drinker.

Wolfish – Savage, savagely hungry.

Wood – Saddle.

Wooding-Place – A station on the banks of a river where the steamboats stop to take in supplies of wood.

Woolies – Sheep

Woolsey – A cheap hat, usually made of wool.

Worm-Fence – A rail fence laid up in a zig-zag manner.

Worse Than a Cat in a Roomful of Rockers – Someone who is really nervous.

Wrathy – Very angry.

Wrapper – A loose dress or gown.

Wrinkle – Whim, fancy, a cunning trick or artful dodge.

Wrinkled His Spine – A horse bucking.



Begins with “X”


Begins with “Y”


Old West Greetings Postcard

Old West Greetings Postcard at Legends’ General Store

Yack – A stupid person.

Yam – To eat.

Yammerin’ – Talking. “Drink yer coffee an’ quit yer yammerin’.”

Yannigan Bag – A bag in which the cowboy carried personal items, also known as a “war bag.”

Yarn – A story.

Yeath – For earth.

Yegg (or John Yegg) – Bandit chief

Yellow Belly – A coward.

Yellow Hammer – Gold coin.

Yellows – Often pronounced yallers. A disease of horses and cattle, which is indicated by a yellow appearance of the eyes, inside of the lips, etc.

Yer – You

Yere – Here

Yourn –  A form of ‘yours’, as in “This un’s mine, that un’s yourn.”


Begins with “Z”


Zitted – Zipped, flew. “The bullets zitted about in every direction.”

Zooning – Humming, buzzing, barking.


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated December, 2016.

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

More Terms, Expanded Definitions + Reverse Lookup + More Pictures


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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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