The cowboy that enigmatic, larger-than-life icon of our culture has long been considered a figure of fast hands, steel nerves, and few words. But according to Ramon Adams, cowboys, once among themselves, enjoyed a vivid, often boisterous repartee. You might say that around a campfire they could make more noise than a jackass in a tin barn.” Here in one volume is a complete guide to cowboy-speak. Like many of today’s foreign language guides, this handy book is organized not alphabetically but situationally, lest you find yourself in Texas at a loss for words. There are sections on the ranch, the cowboy’s duties, riding equipment, the roundup, roping, branding, even square dancing. There are words and phrases you’ll recognize because they’ve filtered into everyday language blue lightnin’,” star gazin’,” the whole shebang” plus countless others that, sadly, are seldom heard in current speech: lonely as a preacher on pay night,” restless as a hen on a hot griddle,” crooked as a snake in a cactus patch.” As entertaining as it is authoritative, COWBOY LINGO captures the living speech of the Great Plains and serves as a window into the soul of the American West.
"The cowboy was not a highly educated man as a rule," says Ramon F. Adams in his introduction to Cowboy Lingo, "but he never lacked for expression." After years of keeping his own notes on the "terse, crisp, clear-cut language of the range," Adams decided that it would be "selfish" not to pass them along. Thus was born Cowboy Lingo, which was first published by Houghton Mifflin in 1936 and appears now after being long out of print. Adams's book is arranged thematically--with chapters on ropes, cattle, brands, the trail, outlaws, and the like--telling as much about the life of the cowboy (or cow-puncher or buckaroo or ranahan or saddle-slicker or waddie) as about his language. As might be expected from a pioneer of the western range, the cowboy "respected neither the dictionary nor usage," says Adams, "but employed his words in the manner that best suited him." And perhaps no other group has come up with a better collection of insults. A bad tracker "couldn't find a calf with a bell on in a corral"; a worthless person's "family tree was a scrub"; and an ignorant person "couldn't drive nails in a snow bank." Great fodder for word mavens, writers of Western fiction, and Wild West enthusiasts alike. --Jane Steinberg