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

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Begins with “C”


California Miners, in front of stagecoach, 1894

Wonder if we could understand what these California men were saying back in 1894?Photo by B.W. Kilburn.

Caboodle – The whole thing. Also called “kit and caboodle.”

Caboose – A ship’s cooking-range or kitchen.

Cady – Hat

Cahoots – Partnership, company or band. “Those to are in cahoots together.”

Calaboose – Jail.

Calamity Jane – Obviously the hard-cussing, heavy-drinking frontier woman, but is also a gambling term for the Queen of Spades.

Calash – A covering for the head, usually worn by ladies to protect their head-dresses when going to evening parties, the theatre, etc.

Calf Slobbers – Meringue on the top of pie.

Calibogus – Rum and spruce-beer.

Calico – A paint horse.

Calico Queen – Prostitute.

California Collar – A hangman’s noose.

California Prayer Book – Gambling term for a deck of cards.

California Widow – A woman separated from her husband, but not divorced. (From when pioneer men went West, leaving their wives to follow later.)

Callin’ – Courting.

Calk – Sharp points of iron on horse or ox shoes to prevent their slipping on ice.

Came Apart – A horse bucking.

Candle-light – Dusk. The dance will start at early candle-light.

Canister – Gun

Canned Cow – Canned milk.

Cannon – A revolver

Can Openers – Spurs

Can’t Come It – Cannot do it. “You can’t come it over me so.”

Caporal – The ranch foreman or roundup boss.

Cap the Climax – To beat all, surpass everything.

Cardinal – The name of a woman’s cloak, from the red or scarlet habit worn by cardinals.

Carryall – A four-wheeled pleasure carriage, capable of holding several persons.

Cash In – To die.

Catalogue Woman – A mail order bride.

Catawampous –  Fiercely, eagerly, awry, cockeyed, crooked, skewed. Also “catawamptiously.”

Catawamptiously Chawed Up – Completely demolished, utterly defeated.

Catch A Tartar – To attack one of superior strength or abilities.

Catch a Weasel Asleep – Referring to something impossible or unlikely, usually used in regard to someone who is always alert and seldom or never caught off guard. “You can’t sneak up on that dude any sooner than you can catch a weasel asleep.”

Catgut – Rawhide rope.

Cattle Baron – A cattle owner with numerous herds of stock, welding power and influence in an area.

Cattle Kate – A female cattle rustler.

Cats-Paw – To be made a cats-paw of. To be made a tool or instrument to accomplish the purpose of another.

Catstick – A bat used by boys in a game at ball

Catty-Cornered – Diagonally across. “The Courthouse is catty-cornered from the drugstore.”

Cavort – To frolic or prance about, to be lively, having fun.

Cat Wagon – A wagon that carried prostitutes along cattle trails

Cayuse – A cowboy’s steed.

Causey – A causeway, or way raised above the natural level

Cavallard – Caravans crossing the prairies.

Caveson – A muzzle for a horse.

Celestial – A term used in the West to refer to people of Chinese descent; the word derives from an old name for China, the “Celestial Empire.”

Chalk – Not by a long chalk. When a person attempts to effect a particular object, in which he fails, we say, “He can’t do it by a long chalk.”

Chap – A boy, lad, a fellow.

“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear …”
— Walt Whitman, 1860

Charivari – (Commonly pronounced shevaree.) – A custom of serenading the newly married with noise, including tin horns, bells, pans, kettles, etc. This “serenade” is continued night after night until the party is invited in and handsomely entertained.

Chaw – Chew.

Chaw Up – To use up, demolish.

Chickabiddy – A young chicken. Used also as a term of endearment for children.

Chew – Eat

Chew Gravel – Thrown from a horse.

Chip – The money drawer in a bank.

Chink – Money.

Chinking And Daubing – The process of filling with clay the interstices between the logs of cabins.

Chirk – To make a peculiar noise by placing the tongue against the roof of the mouth, to urge horses on. Also refers to people as cheerful, good spirits, comfortable.

Chisel or Chiseler – To cheat or swindle, a cheater.

Chitlins – Fragments, small pieces. Also, refers to Chitterlings.

Chitterlings – The intestines of a pig that have been prepared as food.

Chock – To put a wedge under a thing to prevent its moving.

Chock Up – Close, tight, fitting closely together.

Chock-Full or Chuck-Full – Entirely full.

Choke Strap – A necktie.

Choke the Horn – To grab the saddle horn, something no cowboy wants to be seen doing.

Chop – A Chinese word signifying quality, first introduced to mariners in the China trade. Soon became a common word of seamen applied to fine silks, teas, tobacco, etc.

Chopper – The cowboy who cuts out the cattle during a roundup.

Chow – Food, dinner.

Chuck – To throw, by a quick and dexterous motion, a short distance.

Chuck – Food.

Chucklehead – A fool.

Chuck-Line Rider – An unemployed cowboy who rode from ranch to ranch, exchanging a bit of news and gossip for a meal. Also called a “grub-line rider.”

Cowboys at a Mess Scene, 1887

Cowboys gathered around the chuckwagon ready for “chow” on the ranch, 1887

Chuck Wagon Chicken – Cowboys humorously used the term for fried bacon.

Chuffy – Blunt, surly, clownish.

Churched – Expelled from church.

Churn Twister – A derogatory term for a farmer.

Claw Leather – To grab the saddle horn, something no cowboy wants to be seen doing.

Civism – Love of country, patriotism.

Civilizee – A civilized man, one advanced in civilization.  

Clap Or Clap Down – To set down or charge to one’s account.

Clap-Trap – An artifice for attracting applause, used chiefly in theatrical or political events. Later, applied to someone’s mouth that constantly makes noise.

Clean his/your plow – To get or give a thorough whippin’.

Clean Thing – Denotes propriety or what is honorable. “He did the “clean thing” and turned himself in.”

Clip –  A blow or a stroke with the hand. Also refers to running away – to “cut and run.”

Clitchy – Clammy, sticky, glutinous.

Clinch Mountain – Rye whiskey.

Clodhopper – A rustic, a clown.

Close-Fisted – Stingy, mean.

Clothes-Horse – A frame-work for hanging clothes on to dry after they have been washed and ironed, in the form of an opening screen.

Clothesline – Rope.

Clout – A blow or strike, usually with the fist.

Clum – Past tense of climb.

Coal-Hod – A kettle for carrying coals to the fire. Also called a coal scuttle.

Cocinero – The camp cook – also called “coosie” and “cusie.”

Cocked Hat – To knock someone senseless or to shock him completely. Old Joe knocked him into a cocked hat.

Coffee Boiler – Shirker, lazy person. (Would rather sit around the coffee pot than help.)

Coffin Varnish – Whiskey.

Coil – Rope.

Cold as a Wagon Tire – Dead.

Cold Meat Wagon – A hearse.

Colors – The particles of gold gleaming in a prospector’s gold pan.

Cooling yer heels – Staying for a while. “He’ll be cooling his heels in the pokey.”

Come a Cropper – Come to ruin, fail, or fall heavily. “He had big plans to get rich, but it all became a cropper, when the railroad didn’t come through.”

Compressed Hay – Cowchips.

Conniption Fit – A fit of hysteria.

Consumption – Tuberculosis.

Continental – The money issued by Congress during the Revolutionary War. It eventually became synonymous with anything worthless.

Converter – A preacher.


Cookie at the Chuckwagon

Cookie – Ranch or cattle drive cook.

Coon’s Age – A long time.

Coosie – The camp cook.

Coot – An idiot, simpleton, a ninny.

Copper – A copper coin such as the American penny or British.

Copper a Bet – Betting to lose, or being prepared against loss. “I’m just coppering my bets.”

Copperhead – Northern person with Southern, anti-Union sympathies.

Corduroy Road – A road or causeway constructed with logs laid together over swamps or marshy places.

Corks – The steel points fixed under the shoes of horses, in the winter, to prevent them from falling on the ice.

Corn-Cracker – The nickname for a native of Kentucky.

Corn-Dodger – A kind of cake made of Indian corn, and baked very hard.

Corned – Drunk.

Corn-Juice – Whisky.

Corral Dust – Lies and tall tales.

Cottonwood Blossom – A man lynched from the limb of a tree.

Cotton To –  To take a liking to.

Countrified – Rustic, rude.

Couldn’t hold a candle to – Not even close.  “She couldn’t hold a candle to that beauty across the room.”

Coverlid – A bed-quilt, counterpane.

Cowboy Cocktail – Straight whiskey.

Cowboy Up – Tuff-up, get back on yer horse, don’t back down, don’t give up, and do the best you can with the hand you’re dealt, give it all you’ve got.

Cow Chip – Dried cow manure.

Cow Grease – Butter, also called “cow salve.”

Cowhand – A cowboy, also called cowpoke, cowprod, and cowpuncher.

Cowhide – A particular kind of whip made of raw hide; it is also called a raw-hide. Term also refers to flogging with a cowhide – “to cowhide.”

Cow Juice – Milk

Cow-Lease – A right of pasturage for a cow, in a common pasture.

Cowpunching – Driving the cattle to market.

Cow Sense – Intelligence.

Cow Wood – Cowchips.

Crack – Most famous, best.

Cracked – Crazy.

Cracker – A small hard biscuit.

Cracker – A poor white person of the South, named after the crackling whips used by rural Southerners. There are several definitions of this word dating back before the 17th Century, however this was the definition in the Old West, and could have been derived from “Cracker Cowboys” of Florida, which used whips and dogs to capture cattle instead of lasso’s.

Crackerbox – A rodeo rider’s term for a bronc saddle.

Cracklings – Cinders, the remains of a wood fire

Crack Up – To brag or boast.

Cradle-Scythe – Called also simply cradle. A common scythe with a light frame-work, used for cutting grain instead of the sickle.

Crambo – A diversion in which one gives a word, to which another finds a rhyme. If the same word is repeated, a forfeit is demanded. It also refers to drinking.

Crash – A coarse kind of linen cloth used for towels.

Crawl His Hump – To start a fight.

Crazy as a Loon – Very crazy.

Creepmouse – A term of endearment to babies.

Crimany – Exclamation of surprise.

Critter – Creature, varmint. Sometimes used to describe a contemptible person.

Croaker – Pessimist, doomsayer. “Don’t be such an old croaker.”

Crock – The black of a pot; smut, the dust of soot or coal.

Crocky – Smutty.

Crooked As A Virginia Fence – A phrase applied to anything very crooked; and figuratively to persons of a stubborn temperament.

Cross-Grained – Perverse, troublesome.

Cross-Patch – An ill-tempered person.

Crotchety – Whimsical; fanciful.

Crotchical – Cross, perverse, peevish.

Crowbait – Derogatory term for a poor-quality horse.

Crowbar Hotel – Jail.

Cruller – A cake made of a strip of sweetened dough, boiled in lard, the two ends of which are twisted or curled together.

Crumb Castle – A chuckwagon.

Crumb Incubator – A cowboy’s bed.

Crummy – The caboose of a railroad train.

Crusty – Sturdy, morose, snappish.

Cubby-Hole or Cubby-House – A snug place for a child. Later, also used to denote any small space.

Curly Wolf – Real tough guy, dangerous man. “Ol’ Bill is a regular curly wolf, especially when he’s drinkin’ whiskey.”

Curmudgeon – An avaricious, churlish fellow, a miser.

Curry Favor – To seek or gain favor by flattery, caresses, kindness.

Curry the Kinks Out – To break a horse.

Cush – Sweet fried cornmeal cake. Also called “cushie.”

Cuss Words – The swear words back then are pretty much the same as they are now, though they were not used as prevalently back then.  Profanity was frowned upon by polite society and old west cowboys rarely would swear in front of a lady.

Cut A Caper – The act of dancing in a frolicksome manner

Cut a Dash or Cut a Swathe – Make a great show; to make a figure.

Cut A Figure – To make an appearance, either good or bad.

Cut And Come Again – Implying that having cut as much as you pleased, you may come again; in other words, plenty; no lack; always a supply

Cut And Dried – Readymade.

Cut And Run – To be off, to be gone.

Cut Didoes – To get into mischief, frolicksome.

Cut Dirt – To run; to go fast.

Cut a Path – Leave, go.  Are you ready to cut a path out of here?

Cut a Rusty – To go courtin’.

Herding cattle

Cutting out from the herd in 1907.

Cut a Swell – Present a fine figure. “He sure is cutting a swell with the ladies.”

Cut His Suspenders – A departed cowboy.

Cut Of His Jib – The form of his profile. “I knew him by the cut of his jib.”

Cutting Horse – A horse with the ability to cut cows out of a herd.

Cut Up – To criticize with severity; as, “he was severely cut up in the newspapers.”

Cut Up Shines – To cut capers, play tricks.

Cut Stick – To be off, to leave immediately and quickly.

Cutter – A one horse sleigh.


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