a man who herds and tends cattle on a ranch, especially in the western U.S., and who traditionally goes about most of his work on horseback.
a man who exhibits the skills attributed to such cowboys, especially in rodeos.
Chiefly Northeastern U.S. a reckless or speedy automobile driver.
Informal. a reckless or irresponsible person, especially a show-off or one who undertakes a dangerous or sensitive task heedlessly: They put foreign policy in the hands of cowboys.
(during the American Revolution) a member of a pro-British guerrilla band that operated between the American and British lines near New York City.

verb (used without object)

to work as a cowboy.

Origin of cowboy

First recorded in 1715–25; cow1 + boy Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for cowboy

Contemporary Examples of cowboy

Historical Examples of cowboy

  • Then you mean to say that every cowboy risks his life in a round-up?

    A Woman Tenderfoot

    Grace Gallatin Seton-Thompson

  • It was a cowboy party, and one of the cowboys was Donald Morrison.

  • She sent the cowboy to the Cormacks' cottage, to tell Eppie to come to her.

    Salted With Fire

    George MacDonald

  • I was a cow hand—a cowboy—and we did not hold friendship with sheepmen.

    Louisiana Lou

    William West Winter

  • I was worried; not for myself, you understand, but for that cowboy shover.

    The Depot Master

    Joseph C. Lincoln

British Dictionary definitions for cowboy



Also called: cowhand a hired man who herds and tends cattle, usually on horseback, esp in the western US
a conventional character of Wild West folklore, films, etc, esp one involved in fighting Indians
  1. a person who is an irresponsible or unscrupulous operator in business
  2. (as modifier)cowboy contractors; cowboy shop steward
Australian a man or boy who tends cattle
Derived Formscowgirl, fem n
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for cowboy

1725, "boy who tends to cows," from cow (n.) + boy. Sense in Western U.S. is from 1849; in figurative use by 1942 for "brash and reckless young man" (as an adjective meaning "reckless," from 1920s). Cowhand is first attested 1852 in American English (see hand (n.)). Cowpoke (said to be 1881, not in popular use until 1940s) was said to be originally restricted to the cowboys who prodded cattle onto railroad cars with long poles.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper