Word of the Day – Cowcatcher

Word of the Day: May 21, 2020


noun – KOW-ketch-er


  • an inclined frame on the front of a railroad locomotive for throwing obstacles off the track

Did you know?

New Jersey’s Camden and Amboy Railroad was the first in the U.S. to adopt the cowcatcher, adding it to its John Bull locomotive in the early 1830s. But, as the Model Railroader Cyclopedia warned, “don’t ever let a railroad man hear you use ‘cowcatcher.'” In its heyday, railroad workers preferred the name pilot for that v-shaped frame. In the 1940s and ’50s, cowcatcher jumped the tracks and took on a new life in TV and radio advertising jargon. The term was used for a commercial that was aired immediately before a program and that advertised a secondary product of the program’s sponsor. Such ads apparently got the name because they “went in front.”


For his entry in the town parade, John outfitted his black truck with a cowcatcher and smoke stack to resemble a 19th-century locomotive.

“Not in this show, unfortunately, is the amazing ‘Galloping Goose,’ which Springer photographed. Until the early 1950s its modified truck-boxcar mashup—with a cowcatcher in front—lumbered from Ridgway to Lizard Head Pass in Colorado.” — Harriet Howard Heithaus, The Naples (Florida) Daily News, 17 June 2019

Merriam-Webster Word of the Day