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October 23, 2003

Slang of the Week: cowboy up (verb phrase)
be tough like a cowboy, especially in unfortunate circumstances

“I know you’ve been feeling depressed since Sue dumped you,” said Mike to his friend Jeff, “but cowboy up and come to the singles dance on Friday.”

Celebrity quote:
"It's all about the year 2003 for Cowboy Up. Have fun with this team. We're gonna have fun."
-Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar.

Well, of course, cowboying up didn’t help the Red Sox. They lost to the Yankees last week in the last of seven games. But this is an interesting transplantation of slang into a new context. The phrase comes from the rodeo, where participants must be tough, since they are regularly thrown to the ground and stomped on by bulls. It hadn’t been used much in Massachusetts until this year, when Millar made the connection to the Sox, who are regularly thrown to the ground and stomped on by the Yankees.

While baseball players are not exactly cowboys, they do have some linguistic relationship to cows. Pitchers warm up in the bullpen and minor league baseball outfits are called farm teams.

And there are other cowboy expressions that are regularly seen in the sports pages. When a player returns to the game after recovering from an injury, he’s back in the saddle. After a major no-no, like the fights last week, offenders have to pony up (pay) a fine. Finally, when a player retires, he hangs up his spurs.

What’s new at Slang City?
I recently received a letter from a father-to-be who was worried that the name he and his wife were considering for their baby might mean something bad in American slang. Fortunately, I was able to tell him that the name was "safe." But many common English names have dangerous double meanings. Learn more in our new feature, Bad Baby Names!