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“Howdy partner” and other cowboy vocabulary Posted by on Oct 29, 2013 in Culture, English Language

I’m sure you have seen and maybe heard cowboys in American films and on TV, but did you know that American cowboys have their own dialect or way of speaking? Well, they do. Today I thought I’d teach you some common cowboy phrases and sayings so that you can understand cowboy-speak next time you hear it.  So saddle up partner, because here we go!


Cowboy vocabulary:

howdy = hi

howdy partner = hi there friend

ya’ll = all of you
ya = you
giddy up = let’s go (often said while riding to a horse)

Head ’em up, move ’em out. = Let’s go. (Let’s move these cattle.)
a dude = a person who tries to dress like and talk like a cowboy, but really is a city person
wet your whistle = have a drink (usually alcohol)
hoedown = a dance
a half-wit = a stupid person
city-slicker = a person from the city
tenderfoot or greenhorn = a new person
hoosegow or calaboose= jail
namby-pamby = not brave
pony up =  hurry up
skedaddle = get out of here
the jig is up = the game is over; the truth has been exposed
He’s a goner. = He’s dead.
by hook or crook = any way possible
in cahoots = doing something in secret
yokel = a person from the country (not the city)
yonder = over there
saloon = bar/restaurant

Now, here is a brief conversation between two cowboys that uses some of this vocabulary from above to help you put these phrases in context.

A: Howdy.
B: Howdy partner.
A: Are you going down to wet your whistle at the saloon tonight?
B: Not me, that saloon over yonder is full of namby-pamby city slickers. I don’t go there anymore. I’m going to the hoedown tonight.
A: By hook or crook I think I’ll join ya! I’m tired of being around all those dudes at the saloon.
B: Well, we better head ’em up and move ’em out and get back to town. Pony up!
A: Giddy up, I’m right behind ya’.

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.