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

Jump To:  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  

Begins with “B”

Bach – To bachelor it. For men to keep house without a woman’s help. Pronounced, and sometimes spelled, “batch”.

Backdoor Trots – Diarrhea

Bacon – Meaning to save one’s self from injury. To save one’s bacon.

Back Seats – An obscure and modest position, usually referring to politics.

Back Staircase – A derisive term for a bustle. Also called a “bird cage” or “canary cage.”

Bad Box – To be in a bad box, is to be in a bad predicament.

Bad Egg – A bad person.

Bucking Broncho

Bad Hoss – A bucking Bronco

Bad Hoss – A bad or wild horse.

Badlands – From a French term meaning “bad country for travel.” The term applied to barren areas of South Dakota, as well as other inhospitable western locations.

Bad Medicine – Bad news.

Bag of Nails – Everything in confusion, topsy-turvy.

Bait – Food

Baker’s Dozen – Thirteen.

Bake – To overheat a horse by riding too fast, long, or hard.

Bakes – One’s original stake in a game.

Balderdash – Nonsense, foolishness; empty babble.

Baldface Dishes – China dishes.

Ballast – Money

Balled Up – Confused.

Ballyhoo – Sales talk, advertising, exaggeration.

Balmy – Sleepy, weak-minded, dull.

Balls – To make a mistake, to get in trouble. Or, rubbish such as “all balls” – all rubbish.

Bamboozle – To deceive, impose upon, confound. “After Nick had bamboozled about the money, he was arrested.”

Banagher – To bang

Banco or Bunko Steerer or Roper – A sharper, confidence-trick man.

Banded – Hungry

Band Wagon – Peddler’s wagon.

Bandero – Widow’s weeds.

Bangtail – A wild horse – mustang.

Banjo – A miner’s term for a short-handled shovel.

Banquette – The name for a side-walk in some of Southern cities.

Bar Dog – Bartender.

Bared – Shaved

Barber’s Cat – Half-starved, sickly-looking person.

Barber’s Clerk – A conceited, over-dressed fellow who tries to act like a “gentleman.”

Barefoot – An unshod horse.

I’m away from the shop and away from my work,
And I mean to cut up like a regular furk;
So down with the lager and up with your hat
We are off for the day on a regular bat.

  – Concert Hall Songs

Bark – To scalp.

Barkin’ at a Knot – Doing something useless; wasting your time, trying something impossible.

Barking Irons – Pistols.

Barnum – “To talk Barnum” is to not indulge in extravagant, hugh falutin’ talk, but talks in a quiet manner.

Barrens – Elevated lands, or plains upon which grow small trees, but never timber.

Barrow-tram – A rawboned, awkward looking person.

Barrel Boarder – A bum, a low sot.

Barrel Fever – A hangover.

Base Burner – A drink of whiskey.

Bat – A frolic, a spree.

Batting His Eyes – A gambler’s term for men who look on but don’t play.

Battlin’ Stick – A stick to stir clothes in the wash pot.

Bat Wings – Chaps.

Bay – A horse of light-red color.

Bay-window – Pregnancy.

Bazoo – Mouth. “Shut your big bazoo.”

Beads – The bubbles which rise on a glass of wine or spirits.

Bean Eater – A Mexican

Bean Master – The cook

Bear Sign –  A cowboy term for donuts made while they were on the range. A cook who could and would make them was highly regarded.

Beating the Road – Traveling on a railroad train without paying, usually referring to a bum.

Beat the Dutch – To beat all or beat the devil. “It was rainin’ to beat the Dutch.”

Beat the Devil around the Stump – To evade responsibility or a difficult task. “Quit beatin’ the devil around the stump and ask that girl to marry you.”

Becase – Because.

Bed Ground – Where cattle are held at night.

Bed Him Down – To kill a man.

Bed-house – Brothel.

Bed-fagot – Prostitute.

Bed-post – A moment, an instant, jiffy. “He got over here in the twinkling of a bed-post.”

Bed-rock – Not able to go lower. “Is that the bed-rock price?”

Bee – A gathering of friends, family and neighbors to get a specific job done  Usually used with women’s quilting get togethers – a quilting bee.

Bee in Your Bonnet – An idea.

Beef – To kill. (This came from killing a cow for food.) “Doc Holiday beefed a man today.”

Beef-headed – Stupid, dull as an ox.

Beef Tea – Shallow water where cows have stood.

Been in the Sun – Drunk

Been Through the Mill – Been through a lot, seen it all.

Bee-sweetening – Honey

Beetle-crushers – Feet

Beeves – Cattle

B’hoy – A rowdy young man, reveler or ruffian.

Beliked – Liked; beloved.

Bellyache – Complain.

Belly Cheater – A cook.

Belly Robber – The cook.

Belly Through the Brush – Dodge the law.

Belly Wash – Weak coffee.

Belvidere – A handsome man.

Bend an Elbow – Have a drink. “He’s been known to bend an elbow with the boys.”

Drinkers Progress 1874

Perhaps this man had been on a “bender” when this photo was taken in 1874.

Bender – Initially referred to a spree or a frolic. Later, and now, also used to describe someone on a drinking binge.

Benzinery – A low-grade drinking place. Cheap whiskey was sometimes called benzene.

Berdache – An Indian male who dressed and lived entirely as a woman, fulfilling a cultural role within the tribe. Sometimes called in Indian languages a “would be woman” and sometimes thought of as a third sex. Common among the tribes of the Americas, these men-women had social and religious powers. They might be givers of sacred names; leaders of ceremonial dances; visionaries and predictors of the future; matchmakers; etc. Understood as following a vision by most Indians, they were not tolerated by whites. They persist today, discreetly.

Best Bib and Tucker – Wearing your best clothes. “There’s a dance Saturday, so put on your best bib and tucker.”

Betterments – The improvements made on new lands, by cultivation and the erection of buildings.

Bettermost – The best.

Betty – A pear-shaped bottle wound around with straw which contains Italian olive oil.

Between Hay and Grass – Neither man nor boy, half-grown.

B’hoys – Noisy young men of the lower ranks of society.

Bible – A small packet of papers used to roll cigarettes. Also called a “dream book” or a “prayer book.”

Bible Bump – A bump (or cyst) on the wrist or hand that old timers say would disappear if whacked by a large book – such as the bible.

Biddable – Docile, obedient, tractable.

Biddy – Hen. Also used to refer to a nagging or complaining woman.

Biff – To strike in ones face.

Big Augur – Ranch Owner.

Big Bug – Important person, official, boss. “He’s one of the railroad big bugs.”

Big Figure – To do things on on a large scale.

Big Fifty – A .50 caliber Sharps rifle used by professionals for buffalo hunting. It was 16 pounds unloaded, with three-quarter inch, 120-grain black powder cartridges loaded for differing ranges.

Biggest Toad in the Puddle – The most important person in a group.

Biggity – Large, extravagant, grand, hauty.

Big Guns – Men of importance, great people.

Big Jump – Death.

Big Nuts to Crack – A difficult or large undertaking.

Big Pasture – The penitentiary

Big Sugar – Ranch owner.

Bill Show – A Wild West show. Probably derived from the names of the two leading show promoters – William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Gordan William “Pawnee Bill” Lillie.

Bilk – Cheat.

Bime-By – By-and-by, soon, in a short time.

Biscuit – Saddle horn.

Biscuit Roller – The cook.

Biscuit Shooter – The cook.

Bishop – An appendage to a lady’s wardrobe, more commonly called a bustle.

Bite the Ground – To be killed.

Bit House – A cheap saloon.

Black-eyed Susan – A six-gun.

Black – To look black at one is to look at one with anger or deep resentment.

Black-Leg – A gambler.

Blacksmithing – Pimping for a prostitute.

Black Snake – A long whip.

Black Spot – Shade.

Blackstrap – Gin and molasses

Black Water – Weak coffee.

Blame – Euphemism for damn.

Blarney – Stories, flattery, tall tales, idle discourse.

Blather – Impudence. “I’ll have none of your blather.”

Blatherskite – A blustering, noisy, talkative fellow.

Frontier Slang, Lingo & Phrases Book by Kathy Alexander

More Terms, Expanded Definitions + Reverse Lookup + More Pictures

Blazes – Euphemism for hell or the devil.

Blow – To taunt; to ridicule. Also means to turn informer on an accomplice.

Blow Out – A feast; also called a tuck out.

Blue – Drunk.

To Look Blue At Someone – To look at one with displeasure or dissatisfaction.

Blue Belly – A Yankee.

Blue Devils – Dispirited. “I have the blue devils today.”

Blue John – Skimmed Milk

Blue Lightnin’ – A six-gun.

Blue-Skins – A nickname applied to the Presbyterians, from their alleged grave deportment.

Blue Stocking – An epithet applied to literary ladies.

Blusteration – The noise of a braggart.

Boatable – Navigable for boats, or small river-craft

Bobbery – A squabble, argument.

Bobtail Guard – The first cowboy guarding the cattle at night.

Bockey – A bowl or vessel made from a gourd.

Bocking –  Cotton or woollen cloth used to cover floors or to protect carpets.

Bodega – Spanish term for a cheap saloon.

Boggy Top – A pie baked without a top crust.

Bog-Trotter – One that lives in a boggy country.

Bogus – A liquor made of rum and molasses.

Boil Over – A horse that starts bucking.

Bolt – To swallow food without chewing

Bonanza – The discovery of an exceptionally rich vein of gold or silver.

Bone Orchard – Cemetery.

Boodle – A crowd of people.

Boogered Up – Crippled or badly injured.

Boot-licker – The equivalent of an ass-kisser.

Boom Along – A seaman’s term meaning to move rapidly.

Boose – Drink liquor.

Boosy – Fuddled or a little intoxicated.

Boosily – Lazily, in a state of intoxication.

Boot Yard – This was a cemetery, especially for those who died with their boots on; also called boothill, bone yard, bone orchard, grave patch.

Bonny – Clapper or Bonny-Clabber – An Irish term for sour buttermilk.

Bo-Peep – To play at bo-peep. To peep out suddenly from a hiding place, and cry bo! a children’s game.

Born Days – All one’s lifetime; since one was born. “In all my born days I never saw a man so big.”

Bosh – Nonsense. “It was absolute bosh what he said.”

Boss – The best, top. “The Alhambra Saloon sells the boss whiskey in town.”

Bossy – A familiar name applied to a calf.

Boston Dollar – A penny.

Bothahrayshun – A bother

Bottom – Low land with rich soil.

Bottom-Lands – In the Western States, this name was given to the rich flat land on the banks of rivers.

Bottled Courage – Whiskey.

Bouncing – Large, heavy. “Sally gave birth to a bouncing baby girl.

Bouge – To swell out, to bulge.

Bowie-Knife – A knife from ten to fifteen inches long and about two inches broad, so named after its inventor, James Bowie.

Box Herder – The person in charge of the “girls” at a brothel or saloon. Their job was to keep the “ladies” in line.

Brack – A breach, a broken part.

Brain Tablet – Cigarette.

Brand Artist – A rustler who alters brands with a running iron.

Brash – Brittle.

Breachy – A term applied to unruly oxen.

Bread Jerker – Adam’s apple.

Brick in One’s Hat – To be drunk. That old man’s got one hellofa brick in his hat.

Brigham Young Cocktail – Strong whiskey.

Brisk Up – To come up with life and speed, take an erect or bold attitude.

Broke in Two – A horse bucking.

A Bronc Buster.

Bronc Buster – A cowboy who could tame wild horses. Contrary to popular thinking, not all cowboys could ride just any horse, though most could ride any broken mount. But the bronc buster, also called a “bonc peeler” and a “bronc breaker,” was a breed apart. These men, with a special type of “horse sense” earned not only the esteem of the other cowboys, but usually better wages.

Broken Wind – A lung infection in horses.

Broomtail – A long, bushy-tailed range mare, usually unbroken. Also called a “broomie.”

Brother-Chip – A fellow-carpenter; in a more general sense, a person of the same trade.

Brown Study – Deep thought; absence of mind. “He is in a brown study.”

Brown Gargle – Coffee.

Brush – A skirmish, or fight.

Bub – Brother

Buckaroo – A cowboy, usually from the desert country of Oregon, Nevada, California, or Idaho.

Bucket of Blood – A violence-prone frontier saloon.

Bucket Shop – A gin mill or distillery.

Faro Players

Cyrus Noble Whiskey Ad showing Faro Players

Bucking the Tiger – Playing Faro or poker. Also referred to as “twisting the tiger’s tail.”

Buckle Bunnies – Female groupies who follow and befriend rodeo riders.

Buck Up – Cheer up; chin up.

Buckle To – Set about any task with energy and a determination.

Buckra – A white man, applied to white men by the blacks of the African coast.

Buffaloed – Confused.

Buffalo Soldiers – Black soldiers of the U.S. army who fought Indians and policed the frontier in the years following the Civil War. The term was derived from the men’s hair which the Indians thought resembled the fur of the buffalo. Not all of the recruits were former slaves; most were free blacks of Northern parentage and many had served with distinction during the Civil War.

Bug Juice – Booze, firewater, whiskey.

Build a Loop – Shaking out a coil of rope in preparation for roping.

Bull – An officer of the law.

Bullboat – A craft with a willow frame covered by buffalo hide.

Bulldoze – To bully, threaten, or coerce.

The people in our alley call me Salvation Sally,
Since I have been converted, but I try to bear the load,
They say I must be balmy to go and join the army,
That leads you to salvation in the White-chapel Road.

  – Salvation Sally

Bulldozer – A big person.

Bull Nurse – A cowboy.

Bully – Exceptionally good, outstanding. (Used as an exclamation.) “Bully for you!”

Bully For You! – Well done, good job, good for you.

Bullwhacker – A person who drives a team of oxen, usually walking beside them.

Bumblebee Whiskey – Liquor strong enough to “sting.”

To Bundle – A man and woman lying on the same bed with their clothes on, usually separated by a “bundling board.” The practice was used when there was a scarcity of beds

Bungo – A kind of boat used at the South.

Bunko Artist – A con man.

Burg – A town, rather than the common camps and small settlements.

Burn the Breeze – Ride at full speed.

Burnt His Fingers – When a person has suffered loss by a speculation, he is said to have burnt his fingers.

Burrow Milk – Nonsense.

Bushwhack – A cowardly attack or ambush.

Bushwhacker – A raw countryman, a green-horn. Also applies to ambushers.

Buss – Kiss.

Button – A young boy.

Buzzard Bait – A worn out horse.

Buzzard Food – Dead.

By Hook or Crook – To do any way possible.

Buster – Anything large in size or a man of great strength.

Buster or Bust – A frolic, a spree. “They were on a buster, and were taken in by the police.”


Bustles had a number of names including bird cage and canary cage.

Bustle – A pad stuffed with cotton or feathers, worn by ladies for the double purpose of giving a greater prominence to the hips, and setting off the smallness of the waist.

By The Bye – By the way, in passing.

By Good Rights – By right, by strict justice, entitled. “By good rights Mr. Clay ought to be President of the United States.”

By Gum! – An inoffensive oath

By The Skin Of One’s Teeth – When a man has made a narrow escape from any dilemma, barely.


Jump To:  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y