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

buckaroo (also buckeroo), cowhand, cowman, cowpoke, cowpuncher, waddy (or waddie) [West], wrangler

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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


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.


He cowboyed in Texas and Oklahoma.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Mike Flueckiger and Vance Ferebee and the rest of the medical cowboys will go again to save the saviors. Jacqueline Detwiler, Popular Mechanics, "The Airplanes That Rescue Ebola Patients," 5 July 2019 Using the story's age-old tale of two cowboys trying to win the hand of the leading lady, the musical examines ideas of gender, sexuality, justice and power. Maddie Burakoff, Smithsonian, "Ali Stroker Makes History, and More From the Tony Awards," 10 June 2019 Two cowboys on horses were able to wrangle the runaway cow. Minyvonne Burke, NBC News, "Holy cow! Video shows longhorn on the loose charging into downtown Colorado Springs bank," 3 Aug. 2019 And yet the iconic images of the West — the covered wagon on a vast prairie, the cowboy driving a herd on the high plains — are seared into our national consciousness. John Daniel Davidson, National Review, "Founders of the Frontier: David McCullough Discovers Ohio’s Puritan Pioneers," 11 July 2019 Their success brought to American attention the culture of the paniolo, the Hawaiian cowboys who had been herding cattle on the islands since the late 1700s. National Geographic, "12 travel books you won’t be able to put down this summer," 28 June 2019 Woody, like the American western genre, has faded, become less meaningful in a modern world where cowboy has taken on a new context. Richard Newby, The Hollywood Reporter, "How 'Toy Story 4' Evokes the Journey of the Western Hero," 22 June 2019 Woody’s signature rag doll slapstick comedy is in full swing, from the cowboy flailing atop an angry cat running in circles, to getting his face stepped on by Bonnie’s dad, to flinging his limbs every which way to keep Forky in check. Kelsea Stahler,, "Toy Story 4 Isn't Perfect, But It Will Fork Its Way Right Into Your Heart," 15 June 2019 Often times, Western culture is still synonymous with White culture, despite the fact that the black cowboys date back to the 1800s. Jessica Andrews, Teen Vogue, "5 Western Fashion Outfits That Give Off Big Yeehaw Energy," 20 Mar. 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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Statistics for cowboy

Last Updated

2 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for cowboy

The first known use of cowboy was in 1623

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on cowboy

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with cowboy

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cowboy

Spanish Central: Translation of cowboy

Nglish: Translation of cowboy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cowboy for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about cowboy

Comments on cowboy

What made you want to look up cowboy? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to make a temporary encampment

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