cow·​catch·​er | \ ˈkau̇-ˌka-chər How to pronounce cowcatcher (audio) , -ˌke- \

Definition of cowcatcher

: an inclined frame on the front of a railroad locomotive for throwing obstacles off the track

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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 which, aside from pushing aside obstacles, helped to guide the train around curves. 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 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,, "'46 Chevrolet Panel Truck In Lebanon Customized To Deliver A Memorable Ride," 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, "Here’s why I-5 is such a mess in Seattle area, and what keeps us moving at all," 19 June 2017

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

First Known Use of cowcatcher

1838, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of cowcatcher was in 1838

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Cite this Entry

“Cowcatcher.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for cowcatcher


cow·​catch·​er | \ ˈkau̇-ˌka-chər How to pronounce cowcatcher (audio) \

Kids Definition of cowcatcher

: a strong frame on the front of a railroad engine for moving things blocking the track

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