cow·​catch·​er ˈkau̇-ˌka-chər How to pronounce cowcatcher (audio)
: an inclined frame on the front of a railroad locomotive for throwing obstacles off the track

Did you know?

New Jersey's Camden and Amboy Railroad was the first in the U.S. to adopt the cowcatcher, adding it to its John Bull locomotive in the early 1830s. But, as the Model Railroader Cyclopedia warned, "don't ever let a railroad man hear you use 'cowcatcher.'" In its heyday, railroad workers preferred the name pilot for that v-shaped frame. In the 1940s and '50s, cowcatcher jumped the tracks and took on a new life in TV and radio advertising jargon. The term was used for a commercial that was aired immediately before a program and that advertised a secondary product of the program's sponsor. Such ads apparently got the name because they "went in front."

Examples of cowcatcher in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The car was caught and held up by the cowcatcher., 18 Aug. 2020 The lights will go instead under the heavily customized front grill, which on the original vehicle was the size of a locomotive's cowcatcher. Jesse Leavenworth,, 27 July 2017 Equipped with towing equipment, a jack, an air compressor, spare gas and a massive cowcatcher-like steel front bumper, the response teams’ priority, after safety, is clearing the roadway quickly. David Gutman, The Seattle Times, 19 June 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cowcatcher.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1838, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of cowcatcher was in 1838


Dictionary Entries Near cowcatcher

Cite this Entry

“Cowcatcher.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


cow·​catch·​er -ˌkach-ər How to pronounce cowcatcher (audio)
: a strong frame on the front of a locomotive for throwing obstacles off the track
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