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 hero of Exodus, Ari Ben Canaan, played by Paul Newman, is in effect a Jewish cowboy, short on words, long on deeds. Ethan Bronner, The New York Review of Books, "Stuck," 12 Mar. 2020 Only three cowboys completed qualified rides, a day after only one rider — Ruger Piva — was able to stay on for eight seconds. John Whisler,, "Kastner leads parade of cowboys performing under pressure," 20 Feb. 2020 John Ford’s 1939 Western, Stagecoach, is a landmark of this time, garnering two Oscars and cementing John Wayne as the quintessential cowboy, and perhaps American, for the first half of the twentieth century. Angie Jaime, Teen Vogue, "The Movement Creating Better Native American Representation in Film," 18 Feb. 2020 Around 40 cowboys and 12 cowgirls will be in the show. Grace Hollars, Indianapolis Star, "2 hours after the Pacers won, the fieldhouse began transforming into a rodeo," 14 Feb. 2020 At one point, the gorilla held out his arms like a basketball hoop as the kids, including a pilot, camel-rider and cowboy, threw inflatable footballs toward him. Brieanna J. Frank, azcentral, "Phoenix-area Jews don costumes to celebrate Purim, the Jewish holiday 'that's most fun'," 10 Mar. 2020 Her father, a former cowboy and park ranger, worked as a stunt double for western star Tom Mix while her mother was a movie extra. Terence Mcardle, Washington Post, "Diana Serra Cary, silent film star known as ‘Baby Peggy,’ dies at 101," 25 Feb. 2020 There’s a lot of dry land between one decoy set and the other, which requires a lot of time behind the windshield—and a lot of miles and hours to muse on where the ducks might be out here in cowboy-and-alien country. T. Edward Nickens, Field & Stream, "A D.I.Y. Duck Hunt on Public Land in New Mexico," 10 Mar. 2020 Professional rodeo athletes and the amateur cowboys and cowgirls who qualified in the semifinals will compete in events such as team roping, barrel racing and bull riding for a $2.35 million purse — one of the biggest payouts in rodeo. Shannon Sutlief, Dallas News, "9 fun things to do the week of March 6-12 in Dallas-Fort Worth," 4 Mar. 2020 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

12 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Cowboy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 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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