cow·​boy | \ ˈkau̇-ˌbȯi How to pronounce cowboy (audio) \

Definition of cowboy

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : one who tends cattle or horses especially : a usually mounted cattle-ranch hand
2 : a rodeo performer
3 : one having qualities (such as recklessness, aggressiveness, or independence) popularly associated with cowboys: such as
a : a reckless driver
b : a business or businessperson operating in an uncontrolled or unregulated manner


cowboyed; cowboying; cowboys

Definition of cowboy (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

: to work as a cowboy cowboyed in Texas and Oklahoma

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Synonyms for cowboy

Synonyms: Noun

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Did You Know?

In the American West, a horseman skilled at handling cattle is called a cowboy. From ca.1820, cowboys were employed in small numbers on Texas ranches. After the Civil War, their numbers rapidly multiplied as cattle-raising evolved into a lucrative industry throughout the western territories. Cowboys rounded up and branded the cattle, kept watch over the herd, and drove those ready for market to railroad towns. As the agricultural frontier moved west, the open range was transformed into farms, and by 1890 cowboys had been forced to settle on ranches. The romance of their image lives on in American folklore and through movies and television.

Examples of cowboy in a Sentence

Noun a movie about cowboys in the old West He worked for several years as a cowboy on a ranch in Texas. We've got a bunch of risk-taking cowboys running this project. Verb He cowboyed in Texas and Oklahoma.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun This is the second time the cowboy boots have made an appearance on Kendall's Instagram feed over recent days. Jen Juneau,, "Ready for Summer! Kendall Jenner Pairs Her Tiny Nude Bikini with Cowboy Boots for Sultry Snaps," 6 Apr. 2021 There was no dress code — parishioners wore blue jeans and sneakers or cowboy boots. Los Angeles Times, "For more than 80 years, the faithful have celebrated Easter in the Mojave Desert," 5 Apr. 2021 Two young friends took to the town in trends of the moment: One woman opted for a leather jacket, a green miniskirt, slick knee-high cowboy boots and a perpetually chic shoulder bag dangling from her arm. Liana Satenstein, Vogue, "Street Style Is Blossoming Again in New York’s Parks," 29 Mar. 2021 Best of all are the moments when a scene right out of a classic western — a cowboy funeral, a campfire serenade, one last round-up — is allowed to play out amidst struggling lives and potholed streets., "Idris Elba saddles up for ‘Concrete Cowboy,’ on Netflix," 31 Mar. 2021 At one point, Gloria Steinem spotted Saint Phalle walking down Fifty-seventh Street, purseless and in a cowboy getup. Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, "The Pioneering Feminism of Niki de Saint Phalle," 29 Mar. 2021 On vacation, three men get to play cowboy on a dude-ranch cattle drive, but unexpected circumstances test their skills and stamina. Los Angeles Times, "Movies on TV this week: ‘An American in Paris’; ‘Ben-Hur’," 26 Mar. 2021 Soon, a spindly-legged cowboy statue that was part of the Fun Piertown kid section of Playland, the old amusement park that fronted Ocean Beach. Matthias Gafni, San Francisco Chronicle, "S.F. nonprofit raised $180,000 to buy Cliff House artifacts at auction. Here's what will happen to them," 14 Mar. 2021 The creature is clad in cowboy wear, including a fringy vest that gives us shades of Trejo's iconic Machete look. Jillian Sederholm,, "All the clues that Raccoon on The Masked Singer is Danny Trejo," 11 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The church and its magnetic leader, a descendant of pioneering pastors who preached to cowboy stars from a bygone Hollywood age, seem to revel in their contrarian role. Los Angeles Times, "L.A. megachurch pastor mocks pandemic health orders, even as church members fall ill," 8 Nov. 2020 Sam Hunt cowboys up Sam Hunt brought the party with him Friday night. Cindy Watts And Adam Tamburin, USA TODAY, "Friday at CMA Music Festival: Blake Shelton, Kelsea Ballerini," 10 June 2017 Sam Hunt cowboys up Sam Hunt brought the party with him Friday night. Cindy Watts And Adam Tamburin, USA TODAY, "Friday at CMA Music Festival: Blake Shelton, Kelsea Ballerini," 10 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cowboy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of cowboy


1623, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1925, in the meaning defined above

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Statistics for cowboy

Last Updated

17 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Cowboy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for cowboy



English Language Learners Definition of cowboy

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a man who rides a horse and whose job is to take care of cows or horses especially in the western U.S.
: a man who performs in a rodeo
usually disapproving : someone who has qualities that are commonly associated with the cowboys in movies especially : someone who does things that other people consider foolish and dangerous



English Language Learners Definition of cowboy (Entry 2 of 2)

US : to work as a cowboy


cow·​boy | \ ˈkau̇-ˌbȯi How to pronounce cowboy (audio) \

Kids Definition of cowboy

: a man or boy who works on a ranch or performs at a rodeo

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