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

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Begins with “I”


I Dad! – An exclamation used in the Western States.

Illy – Ill, sick.

Absaroka Warriors

Native Americans trained their horses to be  mounted from the right, while western cowboys mounted  from the left side.

Indian Broke – A horse trained to be mounted from the right side. Cowboys mounted from the left side.

Indian Giver – When an Indian gives anything, he expects an equivalent in return, or that the same thing may be given back to him. This applies when someone who, after having given away a thing, wishes to have it back again.

Indian Side – The right side of a horse.

Indian Whiskey – Cheap, adulterated liquor. Also called Indian Liquor.

In For It – Engaged in a thing from which there is no retreating.

In Liquor – Intoxicated, drunk.

Iron – Short for branding iron or six-gun.

Iron Horse – A Railroad train.

Is that a bluff, or do you mean it for real play? – Are you serious?


Begins with “J”


Jackeroo – A cowboy, also called buckaroo.

Jack of Diamonds – Rye whiskey.

Jag – A small load.

Jasper – Slang of this word starting in 1896 meant a guy, or a rustic, simpleton, or naive hick (later changed to “bubba”).

To Jaw – To scold, to clamor, to abuse grossly.

Jawing – Talking. “We sat around the campfire just jawing.”

Jerked Meat – Beef and other kinds of fresh meat dried in the open air without salt.

Jig is Up – Scheme/game is over, exposed.

Jingled – Drunk

Jingler – A person who talks in rhyme or in a catchy repetitious manner, or someone who drinks alot.

Jiminy – By Jiminy! An exclamation.

Jimmying a bull – Shooting a law officer.

Jo-fired – Very, great, immensely; used for emphasis. He is just too jo-fired lazy to get any work done around here. Also “all-fired” and “hell-fired.”

John B. – A cowboy hat, after hat maker John B. Stetson.

John Barleycorn – Beer

Johnny – A Chinaman, also sometime just “John.”

Jollification – A scene of festivity or merriment. Used only in familiar language.

Jonathan – The American people. Also known as Brother Jonathan or Uncle Sam. Sometimes used to refer to a Yankee.

Joy Juice – Whiskey.

Judus Steer – Part of the cowboy’s job during the drive was to identify the Judas steer. Once at the end of the trail, the Judas could simply lead the other cattle to slaughter with no hassle. If a particularly good Judas was found, he was spared the meat hook and used again.

Jump the Broom – Get married.

Juniper – Derogatory term for an easterner or novice cowhand.

Justins – Cowboy boots.



Begins with “K”


Kansas Sheep Dip – Whiskey

Kedge – Brisk, in good health and spirits. “I am feeling pretty kedge today.”

Keep – Storage for food, subsistence, keeping. “The milk is in the keep.”

Keep Company – To court.

Keeping-Room – A common sitting-room or parlor.

Keep That Dry – Keep it secret.

Keep The Pot A Boiling – Keep it going.

Kettled – A horse bucking.

Kick – To protest or to object to something; to complain.

Kick Up a Row – Create a disturbance.

Kidney Pad – Eastern Saddle.

Kitchen Safe – Cupboard

Knee-high to a… – Humorous description of short stature or youth. “He ain’t knee-high to a lamb.”

Knob – Round hills or knolls.

Knobs – Spurs

Knock Galley West – Beat senseless.

Knocked Into A Cocked Hat – Knocked out of shape, spoiled, ruined, fouled up.

Knock Round – To go about.


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

  1. whats it mean when somebody is gonna crease or graze a horse, something to do with wild horses and shooting at one or something

  2. Here’s one bandied about at Bodie: “601” – concerning dealing w/ bad dudes, “Six feet, No judge, One rope”

  3. Watching Tombstone on AMC tonight and at the first of the movie where Curly Bill says “somebody get this stick on his knees”. The PC police at AMC cut “stick” out of the sentence. They obviously just assumed that “stick” was a racist remark directed at Mexicans. They should check this website before making decisions based on ignorance.

    1. They probably thought he said “spik”.
      It would be nice if censors actually knew what they were censoring!

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