Number one for English language teachers

Word of the week: Cowboy

Type: Reference material

Are you a fan of the Wild West? Tim Bowen explains why 'cowboy' no longer just refers to the gun-slinging heroes of our childhood.

The traditional meaning of the word cowboy is, of course, quite clear. In the North American West, a cowboy's job was to look after cattle. In movies cowboys are often depicted in dangerous situations and particularly in conflict with Native Americans.

In the US the word still retains its literal meaning but in recent years the word has taken on a new meaning in British English. It is often applied to unqualified workers who promise gullible customers cut-price work and then perform a sub-standard job, particularly in the building industry. If you talk about a cowboy plumber, for example, you are referring to someone who has either done a very bad job for a lot of money or who has left the job unfinished and disappeared with your money. Beware cowboy builders and the cowboy outfits who employ them!

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