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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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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