Since arriving in Montana to photograph this beautiful state I have come to learn (and appreciate) those words and lingo that are unique to Montana. This list will be updated periodically as I discover new colloquial words and terms. Enjoy!
(Last revised December 2, 2015)
2-Dig: Two-wheel drive.
4-Dig: Four-wheel drive.
A Bit Nippy Out: 20 degrees below zero or colder.
A Buck Ninety Eight: Montana slang for “expensive.”
A Couple Three: A nonsensical phrase meaning “a few.” As in, “A couple three years ago it snowed on the Fourth of July.”
Absaroka: In 1939 a group of business and political leaders tried to break off parts of Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota to form a new state, which would have been called Absaroka and become the 49th state. It is also the name of a mountain range that runs between Montana and Wyoming. The movement resulted in the crowing of a Miss Absaroka, a minor league baseball team, and briefly they printed their own license plates. Absaroka also refers to a mountain range near the eastern boundary of Yellowstone National Park.
Altamont: Southern Alberta, Canada and north central Montana.
Apple Picker: Someone from the state of Washington.
Back East: Anything east of the American plains states. Not to be confused with “out east,” which is more often uttered by those who have moved to Montana and are not native to Montana.
Bench: A flat spot on otherwise rugged or mountainous terrain.
Big Stick: A nickname for the city of Big Timber, Montana.
Blacker Than the Inside of a Cow: Very dark.
Blacktail Deer: A subspecies of the mule deer.
Borrow Pit (or Barrow Pit): A ditch along the side of a road.
Boz Angeles: A nickname for the city of Bozeman, Montana.
Brawl, The: The annual collegiate football game between rivals University of Montana Grizzlies and the Montana State University Bobcats.
Breaks: The area flanking the Missouri River characterized by badlands, rock outcroppings, and steep bluffs. Many locals will warn you not to get “caught in the Breaks” when it rains. I’m told that mud in the Breaks makes vehicular travel virtually impossible. See “gumbo.”
Brookie: A brook trout.
Bucked Off: When a bull rider is thrown from a bull before the required eight seconds expire. Horse riders in Montana, however, are NEVER “bucked off” a horse; they may have “got tossed” (see below) or the saddle may have come loose, but they are never “bucked off.”
Bunny Hugger: A pejorative referring to someone typically from California, or occasionally from out east. See also “prune picker.”
Butte: A hill that rises abruptly from the surrounding area and has sloping sides and a flat top. Also, a butte is smaller than a mountain and larger than a hill. It is also the name of a city in southwest Montana. Not technically slang, but relevant nonetheless.
Butte Rat: A term for someone from Butte, Montana often uttered by someone NOT from Butte, Montana.
Caboodle: The whole number or quantity of people or things in question.
Cadywompus: Screwed up, out or line, off kilter, and/or twisted beyond all recognition.
Can Openers: Spurs.
Chaps: Pronounced “shaps,” NOT “chaps.” Thick, sturdy coverings for the legs, typically made of leather or a leather-like material. In Montana they are worn cowboys and cowgirls to protect their legs. Everywhere else they are largely worn for show. Not technically slang, but relevant nonetheless. Chaps run the full length of the rider’s legs. The two most common styles of chaps are shotgun and batwing. Not to be confused with “chinks.”
Chicken Foot: A road that forks off into three different directions.
Chinks: Similar to chaps, but shorter. Chinks typically end below the knee but above the ankle.
Chinook: The name given to a wind or weather system where warm winds from the southwest meet the Rocky Mountains and then blow across the plains. A strong Chinook is said to cause a foot or more of snow to vanish in a day. Loosely translated, the word means “snow eater.” It is also the name of a small town approximately 20 miles east of Havre, Montana located in Blaine County.
Coulee: A deep gully or ravine, which is usually dry, but was formed by running water. Oh the irony.
Cowboy Up: A phrase used to encourage someone (usually a male) to “suck it up” or “deal with it” instead of standing around and whining.
Cowgirl Up: The exact same definition of “cowboy up,” only in reference to females.
Crick: The generic Montanan pronunciation of the word “creek,” which is a small brook or stream. More often than not when a creek has a name it is then pronounced “creek,” as in Willow Creek or Wolf Creek.
Critter: A small living creature; an animal.
Cow Cop: BLM employee.
Curtain Crawlers: Children. Also known as Ankle Biters, Fuzz Pickers, Rug Rats, or Free Ranch Hands.
Ditch: The addition of water to any alcoholic drink. For example, whiskey and water is ordered “whiskey ditch.” In other words, people in Montana do not drive into a ditch; they drive into a borrow pit. But they do order their whiskey ditch, which may result in driving into the borrow pit after having done so.
Duster: A long trench coat like coat worn by cowboys. Yellow dusters have been popularized by some western painters, while brown ones have been a staple in western movies for many years.
Eight Throttle: Fast. A term that has its origin from railroad workers.
Electric City: A nickname for the city of Great Falls, so named because of its many hydroelectric power plants on the banks of the Missouri River.
Fence Wrecker: A destructive horse.
Fish Cop: Game warden.
Gap, The: Judith Gap, Montana
Gopher: A small, burrowing animal native to the short grass prairies of Montana. They are disliked by most ranchers and farmers who try in vain to poison and shoot as many as they can. The Montana gopher is technically a ground squirrel. Montanans already know this so please do not correct them on this fact.
Gopher Crotch, Montana: Somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It is near Bumble Fuck Egypt.
Got Tossed: Bucked off a horse. Also called “chewing gravel.”
Gulch: A draw or deep ditch formed by erosion. It may contain a small stream or dry creek bed and it is usually larger in size than a gully. Sudden rainfall upstream may produce a flash flood in a gulch. The difference between a gulch and a coulee is unclear.
Gumbo: Montana slang for greasy, impassible mud; particularly that which is found in eastern Montana. It is a slick and slippery ooze when wet, but when dry it has all the qualities and hardness of concrete.
Hammer Head: A bad horse.
Hay Burner: A horse.
Hay Shaker: An old-time farmer.
Hi-Line: A geographical term referring to that portion of northern Montana just south of the Canadian border along which runs the main line of the BNSF Railway (originally the Great Northern Railway) and U.S. Highway 2.
High Centered: Drunk, or when a vehicle gets stuck on the chassis.
Hole: A valley, especially one surrounded by steep mountains.
Honyock (or Honyocker): A pejorative often applied to people who were unwelcome among their family, friends and/or community. It was used by early Montana ranchers in reference to farmers and settlers who moved to Montana and fenced off the open land.
Hooky Bobbing: The act of a person hanging onto the bumper of a motor vehicle and sliding behind it on ice, snow, or another slippery surface.
Hoots: Hutterites; a communal group of religious people who, like the Amish and Mennonites, trace their roots to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. Communities of Hutterites live throughout Montana.
Hoot Wine: An alcoholic beverage brewed by Hutterites in Montana (and Canada).
Jetter (or Jet Butt): A term used in Great Falls referring to someone in the Air Force.
Jockey Box: Glove compartment.
King George Has Run Into Jail: The phrase taught to children on the Hi-Line to help them remember the names of towns (in order) between Havre and Chester. They are: Kremlin, Gildford, Hingham, Rudyard, Inverness, and Joplin.
Last Best Hiding Place: A term giving to Montana by those native to the state. The phrase first originated when Ted Kaczynski, otherwise known as the Unabomber, was captured in a remote cabin outside of Lincoln, Montana. Other convicts and escapees have also fled to hide in Montana, too, which really isn’t a good idea since many native Montanans can easily spot an interloper.
Let Her Buck: A phrase that originated on the ranches and rodeo grounds of Montana. It can mean “to conquer” or to “let it go.” During the first World War western regiments in France would yell “let her buck” as they charged into battle. It is also uttered in Montana’s ore and mineral mines when a drill or jack hammer hits something hard and begins jumping around.
Many Sticks: A common nickname for the city of Plentywood, Montana. Ironically, the area near Plentywood has very few trees. Also, the water in nearby Medicine Lake is poisonous. Legend has it both Plentywood and Medicine Lake received their names in an effort to lure new residents and visitors to come there.
Meadow Maggots: Sheep. Also known as “prairie maggots.”
Montana Justice: Swift and strict punishment enforced by local residents (typically outside the law) performed against someone who has committed a particularly egregious and/or illegal act.
Montana Shoeshine: What you get when you step in a pile of cow shit.
Montana Weather: Nine months of winter and three months of bad skiing.
Montanabahn: Interstate 90 in Montana. During daylight hours from 1995 to 1999 there was no posted speed limit. Drivers were urged to use “reasonable and prudent” judgment while driving, but you could drive as fast as you wanted.
Montanada: The miles and miles of border between northern Montana and southern Canada.
Moose Drool: A locally brewed beer made by Big Sky Brewery in Missoula. It is to Montana what Spotted Cow is to Wisconsin.
Muley: A mule deer.
Neckerchief: A triangular or rectangular piece of cloth folded into a triangle and worn around the neck by ranchers and cowboys in Montana. Not to be confused with an ascot. Technically not slang, but relevant nonetheless.
Nice Speakin’ Atcha: Goodbye.
Notch: An opening or narrow passage through the mountains or hills.
Number 12 Cattle Prod: A figurative term for a tool or more aptly, to kick something in the ass.
Oil: A paved road.
On Tower: On shift.
Outfit: A pick-up truck. Women who have just moved to Montana have found themselves offended because of this term when taking their truck in for service if the mechanic says, “Lady, you have a problem with your outfit.” Also, the term “truck” will also commonly refer to a semi truck and NOT a pick-up truck.
Owly: Stubborn and/or disagreeable.
Pasty: Pronounced “pass-tee,” a pasty is a dish brought to Butte, Montana by miners from Cornwall, England. It is a meat pie made with pieces of meat (usually beef), potato, turnip, and onion, covered with gravy, with gravy being a Montana addition to the original Cornish recipe.
Park: A high valley surrounded by mountains.
Prairie Maggots: Sheep. Also known as “meadow maggots.”
Powder Day: Taking off work after an amazing mountain snowfall perfect for skiing.
Prairie Goat: A pronghorn antelope, which is neither a goat nor an antelope. Also see Speed Goat.
Prune Picker: Someone from California who is reviled. They are sometimes also referred to as See also “bunny hugger.”
Queen City: Helena, Montana
Rattler: A rattlesnake. To see a photo of a baby rattler click here.
Red Jammer: An affectionate nickname for one of the popular red buses used to transport visitors through Glacier National Park.
Rig: See “outfit.”
Rocky Mountain Oysters: When bull testicles are eaten as food. They are often deep-fried after being peeled, coated in flour, peppered, and salted. Sometimes they are pounded flat. As a local delicacy Rocky Mountain Oysters are served as an appetizer. They can also be plainly cooked on the end of a branding iron after calves have been freshly branded and castrated. Also known as Cowboy Caviar, Montana Tender Groins, Dusted Nuts, Bull Fries, or Swinging Beef. They are also celebrated at the annual Testy Festy every August in Clinton, Montana and at the Testical Festival in Ryegate, Montana.
Saddle Up: The act of climbing into an automobile, or a chair (typically a bar stool), or onto a horse.
Shed Hunter: Someone who collects antlers and horns that have been shed by wild animals.
Shit Kickers: Cowboy boots.
Skeeters: Mosquitoes, also known as B-52s.
Slow Elk: A cow.
Slicker: Rain jacket.
Sluffing: Skipping school. Or when a mass of earth and/or rock slide down the side of a hill. Extreme examples of sluffing have been known to shut down and/or alter the course of roads in Montana.
Smarter Than a Cow: A good horse.
Snoose (or Snooce): Montana slang for chewing tobacco. Also known as “chaw.”
Spinning Brodies: A maneuver performed while driving a vehicle that involves rotating the rear or front of the vehicle around the opposite set of wheels in a continuous motion creating a circular skid-mark pattern of rubber on a roadway. Elsewhere more commonly known as “spinning doughnuts.”
Spread: A large ranch or farm. (Added June 4, 2014)
Spud Muncher: Someone from Idaho.
Speed Goat: A pronghorn antelope, which is neither a goat nor an antelope. Also see Prairie Goat.
Spendy: The Montanan word for “expensive” or “pricey.”
Spread: A ranch–which is never, ever referred to as a farm.
Steeper Than a Cow’s Face: Very steep.
String: A fishing line. Also, a line of animals, typically cows or horses.
Tree Cop: U.S. Forest Service law enforcement.
Twirling: The act of spinning a lasso when roping cattle.
Two Bits: Twenty-five cents, or due to inflation, $25 dollars.
Umver (also Ahh ver): Describing the shock of someone’s actions, especially if someone might be in trouble for such action.
Yammerin: Talking. As in, “Drink your whiskey and quit your yammerin.”
You Betcha: A phrase commonly heard in Montana, which can mean either (1) “yes,” (2) “I agree, ” (3) “you’re wrong, but I won’t embarrass you by telling you’re wrong, and/or,” (4) “I didn’t hear what you said but I will respond nonetheless.”
Zootown: A common nickname for the city of Missoula, Montana.