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Cowboy lingo: Understanding a cowboy's grunts and gestures

Marci Whitehurst for Progressive Cattleman Published on 18 February 2016
riding horses in pasture

It's been noted that after several years of marriage, couples begin to finish each other's sentences and understand certain phrases to which they alone are privy. I'm certain this is true among cowboys as well. After 17 years of marriage though, I'm still uncertain of some of my hubby's grunts, hand motions and word combinations.

Last summer, we had a plan to move a small group of cow-calf pairs. The plan always sounds so easy and goes off without a hitch in our minds. What actually happened was opposite the plan. My husband flailed his arms, which I understood to mean, "Let them through the gate." I moved away from the gate, assuming we'd take them the back way to the new pasture.

When my hubby got closer, I knew I'd done the wrong thing. "Why did you let them go past? You're supposed to be blocking the gate!" (This is the toned down version.) To which I yell, "You waved at me to let them by!" After a heated discussion, it was determined that we still don't understand each other all the time and we'd go ahead and take them via the alternate route.

This was not an isolated occurrence. Another time, I was supposed to pick him up at "the big rock over there," and apparently I went to "the big rock up yonder." (Thank goodness for cell phones or my bones might still be sitting by the wrong rock.)

In a summer pasture we rented a few years ago, my hubby asked me to bring the truck and trailer up over the road and meet him. The pasture was a one-time rental, and I was unfamiliar with it, but I figured I could find a road. I got out and walked before I found the slightest two-track underneath a pile of grass (the cows had yet to graze that part). A jackrabbit would've needed directions to find this "road."

While I realize that some of our situations can be attributed to my lack of expertise, I also chalk up some circumstances to miscommunications of gestures and to cowboy lingo. Have you heard or seen any of these behind your fences?

"Nup, nutha." This means, "No, the other one."

"Plgabtut." Often varying in utterances, this is said with a rope, a glove or other paraphernalia in the mouth. It basically means, "Please grab that." However, it can also mean, "Get me the shotgun," "Help me" or "Let's go out for ice cream."

Yells, rants or questionable words slung toward you. These are clear prompts that you've made a mistake, but you're not sure what. After the fact, he says, "I was only hollering at the cows, my dearest, sweetest, most wonderful wife."

A hand circling the air. This usually means to come back around. When done at a high lope away from you, it means I'm circling to look for stragglers.

Tipping the brimmed hat can mean anything from "I agree," "I'm headed that way" to "I want a kiss."

Grunts are almost always time sensitive. A low, hard, guttural grunt deserves immediate attention and probably requires bandages, medicine or therapy. All other grunts are based on interpretation and, any way interpreted, will only be understood by another cowboy.

All and in all, we are learning to communicate better in our marriage. I'm trying to learn his lingo, and he's attempting to understand me. Maybe I'll master the art of cowboy lingo and he'll understand my emotions. Well, then again. ...  end mark

Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can follow her at her blog.

PHOTO: The Whitehurst girls learning a cowboy's lingo on horseback. Photo by Marci Whitehurst.

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