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[kou-boi] /ˈkaʊˌbɔɪ/
a man who herds and tends cattle on a ranch, especially in the western U.S., and who traditionally goes about most of his work on horseback.
a man who exhibits the skills attributed to such cowboys, especially in rodeos.
Chiefly Northeastern U.S. a reckless or speedy automobile driver.
Informal. a reckless or irresponsible person, especially a show-off or one who undertakes a dangerous or sensitive task heedlessly:
They put foreign policy in the hands of cowboys.
(during the American Revolution) a member of a pro-British guerrilla band that operated between the American and British lines near New York City.
verb (used without object)
to work as a cowboy.
Origin of cowboy
1715-25; cow1 + boy Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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British Dictionary definitions for cowboys


Also called cowhand. a hired man who herds and tends cattle, usually on horseback, esp in the western US
a conventional character of Wild West folklore, films, etc, esp one involved in fighting Indians
  1. a person who is an irresponsible or unscrupulous operator in business
  2. (as modifier): cowboy contractors, cowboy shop steward
(Austral) a man or boy who tends cattle
Derived Forms
cowgirl, noun:feminine
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for cowboys



1725, "boy who tends to cows," from cow (n.) + boy. Sense in Western U.S. is from 1849; in figurative use by 1942 for "brash and reckless young man" (as an adjective meaning "reckless," from 1920s). Cowhand is first attested 1852 in American English (see hand (n.)). Cowpoke (said to be 1881, not in popular use until 1940s) was said to be originally restricted to the cowboys who prodded cattle onto railroad cars with long poles.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for cowboys


  1. A reckless driver or pilot: City Subway Mishaps Attributed To Speeding ''Cowboy'' Motormen/ a pilot with a history of recklessness and a reputation as a ''cowboy'' (1920s+)
  2. The king of a suit of playing cards (1940s+ Gambling)
  3. A violent gun-brandishing criminal: apparently the same cowboy, a young punk with a Fu Manchu mustache, waving a nickel-plated pistol (1920s+ Underworld)

To murder recklessly and openly: even if we had to cowboy them (which) means that we were to kill them any place we found them even if it was in the middle of Broadway (1920s+ Underworld)

Related Terms

drugstore cowboy

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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