Sweet Grass – Montana Romance Series: Montana Colloquialisms

While the Horses Stood To Their Fetlocks In The Tumbling Stream, He Turned To Her, A Smiling Question In His Eyes, by W. H. D. Koerner, 1929

Well, now that I’ve lived in Montana for a while, I’ve learned a few sayings of the “only in Montana” variety. Given the part of Montana I write about in my Sweet Grass – Montana Romance series was predominantly settled by Norwegians, I’m sure some of these sayings stem from Scandinavian cultures. As to what sayings originated in The Treasure State, a few are obvious, others I can’t give an expert opinion. I will say I never heard most of these until I came to Montana.

Well, let me share some with you. See, a lot of folks in these parts (particularly old-timers) begin their sentences with “Well.” As in, “Well, a man who doesn’t learn from life is awful dumb.”

Other sayings I hear a lot are: “Sure ’nuff” “That so?” “You bet” or “You betcha.”

And, until I moved to Montana, I don’t recall people ending phone conversations (especially the men) with an “mm” sound before ‘bye – as in “mm-bye.”

Here are a few others that I’ve sprinkled into my stories:

Back East:  All of those places east of the plains states. As in:

The conversation swerved to how Gigi astonished the whole town when she up and sold her property and café to a stranger from Back East. (Excerpt from Trusting Travis: Sweet Grass -Montana Romance, Book 2)

Big Stick: what some folks call the town of Big Timber, Montana. My stories are set in a fictional town about 25 miles north of Big Timber.

Can Openers: what the cowboys call spurs. (No spurs were used or will be used in the making of the Sweet Grass – Montana Romance series, though a fella from Back East who thinks he’s a cowboy wants to give them a try in book 3).

Chicken Foot: a road that forks in three different directions. As in:

Outside, he propped his crutches on the front seat of the UTV before hopping sideways onto the dump bed. He directed her gaze to the road ahead. “Head to the chicken foot and hang a left.”

“Chicken foot?” She stared at him over her shoulder.

His eyes glittered beneath the brim of his hat. “Where the road forks in three directions. At the bottom of the draw.”


“Just drive.”

(Excerpt from: Trusting Travis. Copyright © 2019 Margaret Desmond)

Crick: Pretty much any creek that doesn’t have a proper name. Sweet Grass Creek is a “creek.” Brooks or streams feeding into it are “cricks.”

Critters: any small animal.

Fence Wrecker: a horse with poor manners. As in:

“He kept testing me until he realized I was treating him the way I wanted him to be—a well-behaved, sweet, intelligent and trusting horse—not the angry, mistrusting fence wrecker he was right then.” (Trusting Travis: Sweet Grass – Montana Romance, Book 2)

Got Tossed:  what happened when you got bucked off a fence wrecker.

Gumbo: what Montanans (especially those living in the eastern plains area of the state) call mud. A slick, impassible ooze when wet, hard as concrete when dry.

“Well, now, this is a cause for celebrating,” Squeak crowed. “Travis wasn’t sure you’d be willin’ to take us on. Me and Mutt were all set to come begging tomorrow, gumbo or no.” (Trusting Travis: Sweet Grass – Montana Romance, Book 2)

Montana Shoeshine: what you get when you step in a pile of cow manure.

Outfit: I’ve heard two meanings for this word. In my research of “Melville Country” and the writings of Spike Van Cleve, an outfit is the name of a person’s ranch, as in: “I’m helping at Travis’s outfit until he’s back on his feet.” I’ve also heard outfit to refer to a pick-up truck. In my stories, Outfit is a ranch (or spread).

Saddle Up: To climb onto a horse (or a bar stool or into a car).

Smarter than a Cow: A good horse.

Spendy: What many old-timers say instead of “expensive” or “pricey.”

“Sagebrush in a bouquet? I can’t picture it. Roses and lavender are a special order that time of year. So spendy! I can make her bouquet for free.” (Trusting Travis: Sweet Grass – Montana Romance, Book 2)

Well, there are plenty more, but these are the few I’ve used in my books. If I’ve peaked your interest, take a look at my Sweet Grass -Montana Romance series. The books are available on Amazon in both digital and print format.

Any fun, quaint colloquialisms from your neck of the woods? Please share!

4 thoughts on “Sweet Grass – Montana Romance Series: Montana Colloquialisms

  1. Kelly Kirby says:

    “Rig” is also a reference to a saddle- as in, “Toss your rig on the bay and give him a turn”.
    And, by the way, I hope you enjoyed my gramp’s book(s). He wrote two- 40 Years Gatherins and A Day Late And A Dollar Short.


    1. Margaret Desmond says:

      Love it! I’ll use that in an upcoming book. I LOVE your gramp’s books. I mention what an inspiration they were to me in the Author’s Note at the end of That Hollister Man. Wish I could have met Spike in person. I’ll talk more about this in an upcoming blog. Thank you for reading and commenting!


  2. Kathy Holley says:

    “Rig” used to refer to ones mode of transportation, a truck especially. I need to get a new rig, the block is cracked on this one.

    The ownership of horses that serve as nothing more than “yard ornaments”. Only in Montana (large open fields of grasses) would anyone consider keeping horses that are never ridden, never really trained beyond being fed hay during the winter. . . . .

    Hope you are well Margaret.I’ll add to your list when something occurs to me.




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