EARLIER TODAY I returned to my home in Dallas after visiting family, traveling on Amtrak’s Heartland Express, a line that in about four hours crosses the prairie that flattens out between Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Fort Worth, Texas.
I took advantage of the peace and quiet, spending the majority of my time writing, but along the way looked out on scenes which, although rushing past my window at 80 miles per hour, had remained mostly unchanged after a century and a half.
Dallas plays on that heritage, and has created for itself the image of a horseback metropolis, but most of that cowboy talk is just PR, pilgrim. Still, the real cowboys are out there, if you’ll just head out of town in any direction about an hour or so.
When a cowboy talks, you might oughta’ listen.
After moving here from Ohio in my early teens, I spent time growing up around some of these horse-and-cattle folk, and still revere their stoic way of coping with a challenging line of work. Out of necessity, cowboy talk packs a lot of meaning into very few words. And, lordie, if they don’t want to say anything at all, they can give you such a look.
So you might understand why, as every week at this time I explore the colorful language from yet another place and time, I’ve chosen this week to look at how cowboys talk. According to The American Thesaurus of Slang, this is how one cowboy may have once referred to another:
Baquero, brush buster, brush popper, brush thumper, brush whacker, brush hand, buckaree, buckaroo, buck-ayro, buck hara, bucko, caballero, cow hand, cow-poke, cow-prod, cowpuncher, cow waddy, critter hopper, forker, hand, leather pounder, mes-quiteer, mustangeer, puncher, ranahan, rannie, roper, rope tosser, saddle sticker, saddle sitter, saddle warmer, saddle stiff, sagebrush savage, screw, vaquero, clean setter, top hand, top rider, light rider, limb skinner, bulldogger, dogger, rassler, bull nurse, dally man, tie man, small-loop man, fence rider, flankers, flank riders, swingmen, drag or tail riders, line rider, outrider, night herder, renegade rider, stray man, outside man, rep, stray man, rough-string rider, trail cutter, white-water buck. Dude wrangler, S.A. cowboy, cow milker, dry farmer, hay pitcher, sheepherder, bog rider, pothole rider, knothead, (contemptuous).
THE AMERICAN THESAURUS OF SLANG, WITH SUPPLEMENT. A COMPLETE REFERENCE BOOK OF COLLOQUIAL SPEECH, BY LESTER V. BERREY AND MELVIN VAN DEN BARK. COPYRIGHT 1942, 1947, BY THOMAS Y. CROWELL COMPANY. FIFTH PRINTING, JANUARY 1947.