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 The former estate of America’s favorite singing cowboy, Gene Autry, is currently up for sale in California. Gerren Keith Gaynor, Fox News, "Late country music legend Gene Autry's ranch estate on sale for $8.2M," 13 Feb. 2020 The top 50 cowboys and cowgirls in seven events — bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling, bull riding and barrel racing — will compete over 17 days for more than $1.6 million in prize money. John Whisler,, "Success of cowboy draft inspires more changes to San Antonio Rodeo format for 2020," 1 Feb. 2020 Audiences want cowboys in black or white hats: the passionate, not the dutiful. Rumaan Alam, The New Republic, "Clemency Grapples With the Banal Evil of the Death Penalty," 17 Jan. 2020 Craig Green, the British men’s wear designer, sent male models down the runway last year wearing in tropical-themed quilts that were fashioned like ponchos, fringed cowboy shirts and oversize tunics. Max Berlinger, New York Times, "This Old Thing? Quilts Hit the Catwalk," 9 May 2018 In a single day, tourists can impersonate cowboys, shake hands with Elvis, and take selfies in the biggest K-Mart in the world (a popular tourist spot). National Geographic, "In WWII, the Japanese invaded Guam. Now they’re welcomed as tourists.," 13 Dec. 2019 Already local farm workers and cowboys come in for breakfast. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Backcountry biker bar reopens and it’s definitely not a dive," 22 Sep. 2019 Police from North Alabama had a chance to play cowboy recently after a herd of cattle got loose during rush hour. Leada Gore |, al, "Round ’em up: Police wrangle loose cattle during rush hour," 20 Aug. 2019 This Woody themed wall decal pack is perfect for any cowboy or cowgirl. Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored, "From Woody to Buzz, and of course Forky, here's your guide to the best 'Toy Story 4' merch," 14 June 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb 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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Time Traveler for cowboy

Time Traveler

The first known use of cowboy was in 1623

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Statistics for cowboy

Last Updated

18 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Cowboy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for cowboy


How to pronounce cowboy (audio)

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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