I do like a bit of cowboy butter to my meat

The original spur was this Pinterest item:

(#1) [ cowboy butter ] [ dipping sauce ]

On the dipping sauce in #1; the cowboy butter that is its basis; the interpretation of cowboy butter and other cowboy X compounds (cowboy casserole, cowboy rub); the combination of cowboys, butter, and meat (each with possible sexual associations); Jackson Hole Cowboy Cream; and cowboy cheese bites.

(Apologies to A.A. Milne for my travesty of the concluding line of “The King’s Breakfast”.)

The dipping sauce. From the eatwell 101 site, “Cowboy butter dipping sauce: Easy and delicious — You’ll want to sip this butter sauce by the spoon”:

Cowboy Butter Dipping Sauce – This garlic butter dipping sauce is the bomb! So freaking good with grilled meat like steak or chicken bites. You can also enjoy with dipped bread slices, veggies, or anything edible you can get your hands on, really!

The recipe involves melted butter, flavored with lemon juice and zest, minced garlic, Dijon mustard, cayenne pepper, paprika, chopped parsley, chopped chives, minced thyme, crushed red pepper flakes, and ground black pepper

Recipes from a number of other sources make it clear that cowboy butter is a thing in itself, a seasoned butter to put on grilled meat, especially steaks.

Cowboy butter. From the Juggling Act Mama site, about its cowboy butter recipe (salted butter, fresh parsley, red pepper flakes, black pepper, fresh garlic, and lemon juice and zest, creamed together and refrigerated, so that it can be fashioned into disks or pats):


Make up a batch of compound butter worthy of grilling season in just minutes! This homemade Cowboy Butter is so delicious on grilled chicken, steak and lots more. You’re going to love this Cowboy Butter recipe!

… There is nothing like a big ‘ole pat of this Cowboy Butter on top of a perfectly grilled steak! Serve pats of the butter on top of grilled steak or even chicken at your next cookout and you’ll really wow your guests! It also makes an incredible garlic bread!

cowboy X compounds. What’s the semantic relationship between the modifier N cowboy and the head N butter in the compound cowboy butter?

For comparison, from my 2/4/19 posting “Cowboy casserole”, about that N + N compound:

Clearly not an Ingredient compound (‘casserole made from cowboys’), but instead a Use compound, roughly ‘casserole for cowboys (to use)’, or — most likely — an Object compound, roughly ‘casserole of the sort that cowboys (like to) eat’.

(with a link to a more extended discussion of the interpretations of cowboy rub in a 8/25/14 posting).

The compound cowboy butter then looks like a more distant and attenuated Use compound, ‘butter of the sort that cowboys might use (to season their steaks)’

But then cowboy butter has yet another interpretation, parallel to the most likely interpretation of yak butter — as a Source compound, roughly ‘butter that comes from, is produced by, cowboys’ (cowboy casserole has a parallel interpretation, which probably hadn’t occurred to you). The mode of production isn’t specified: it could be that some cowboys produce butter through industrial farming; or that some cowboys exude butter from their bodies; or that they exude not actual butter but a substance resembling it; and on and on.

Butter and sex. In the real world, there are (at least) two bodily secretions that have been taken to resemble butter: semen and smegma (the analogy is most often to cheese, but butter is also attested). And so we stumble into the world of possible sexual associations for cowboy butter, especially in conjunction with references to meat — meat being common coarse slang for ‘penis’.

From the on-line Farlex community definitions:

dick butter (adult / slang)

  1. Since the 1930s, semen and other fluids ejaculated at orgasm. See semen for synonyms.
  2. Smegma, the cheesy-looking, foul-smelling secretions that collect beneath the foreskin of an unwashed, uncircumcised penis.

Synonyms: bell cheese; cheese; cock cheese; cockhead cheese; corn on the cob; cottage cheese; dick-dairy; dick dolcenatte; fumenda cheese; head cheese (headcheese); helmet halva; knob cheese; pecker cheese; smentana; willy wensleydale.

The first sense has (dick / cock) butter as an alternative to the much more common dairy-based slang cream. The second has it as an alternative to the much more common dairy-based  slang (dick / cock) cheese. (Neither sense for butter is in GDoS.)

[Digression. Yet another, but non-sexual, sense of butter. Once again parallel to cream. Just as cream has a metaphorical use to refer to a creamy substance applied to the skin (for cosmetic or medicinal purposes), so butter has such a use, as in this commercial product:


Of course, dermal creams and butters can have sexual uses. From my 6/25/13 posting “Stimulating and destimulating”, this product:

(#4) Boy Butter Desensitizing Lubricant ]

Back in a bit of cowboy butter to my meat, the cowboy figure adds its own sexual component to the combination of butter and meat, thanks to the association of the mythic cowboy — none of this stuff is about actual cowboys — with high masculinity and his covert presentation in popular culture as an attractive sexual object (to be identified with or desired, according to the predilections of the viewer). Steve McQueen in Wanted Dead or Alive, the young (and beautiful) Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide, and, most dramatically, the figure of the Marlboro Man:

(#5) The cowboy as basket in boots

Cowboy cream. With cream short for cream soda. From Amazon.com,  Jackson Hole Cowboy Cream:

(#6) Jackson Hole Soda: “hand-crafted old fashioned soda”; from their site:

We produce incredibly delicious, high quality sodas that honor the pioneer spirit of the old west. When it’s time to relax after a long day in the saddle, there’s nothin’ better than knocking back one of our old-time soda fountain favorites. Our flavors are as varied as the sun setting over our beautiful Grand Tetons and will bring a smile to your face!

Their flavors:

Buckin’ Rootbeer, Grand Teton Grape, High Mountain Huckleberry, Jackson Ginger, Outlaw Orange Cream, Snake River Sarsaparilla, South Fork Strawberry Rhubarb, Cowboy Cream Soda, Cherokee Cherry Vanilla, Western Watermelon

And on cream soda, from Wikipedia:

Cream soda (also known as creme soda) is a sweet soft drink. Traditionally flavored with vanilla and based on the taste of a classic soda, a wide range of variations can be found worldwide.

A recipe for cream soda — written by E. M. Sheldon and published in Michigan Farmer in 1852 — called for water, cream of tartar (tartaric acid), Epsom salts, sugar, egg, and milk, to be mixed, then heated, and when cool mixed with water and a quarter teaspoonful of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to make an effervescent drink. It was suggested as a temperance drink preferable to those of “Uncle Bacchus” and in compliance with the recently introduced Maine law.

Alexander C. Howell, of Vienna, New Jersey, was granted a patent for “cream soda-water” on June 27, 1865. Howell’s cream soda-water was made with sodium bicarbonate, water, sugar, egg whites, wheat flour, and “any of the usual flavoring materials — such as oil of lemon, extracts of vanilla, pine-apple, to suit the taste.” Before drinking, the cream soda-water was mixed with water and an acid such as tartaric acid or citric acid. In Canada, James William Black of Berwick, Nova Scotia was granted a U.S. patent on December 8, 1885, and a Canadian patent on July 5, 1886, for “ice-cream soda”. Black’s ice-cream soda, which contained whipped egg whites, sugar, lime juice, lemons, citric acid, flavoring, and bicarbonate of soda, was a concentrated syrup that could be reconstituted into an effervescent beverage by adding ordinary ice water.

Note that, usually, cream soda has no cream (or even milk) but is metaphorically creamy in mouthfeel and taste, especially if it contains vanilla (so that it resembles vanilla ice cream).

Cowboy cheese bites. I’m not entirely sure whether this 3-N compound is to be parsed as

[ cowboy ] [ cheese bites ] ]  OR  [ cowboy cheese ] [ bites ]

but in either case the connection to cowboys is through an association between challengingly spicy food and cowboys (via the intervening link of high masculinity), with some contribution of an association between cowboys and Mexico. That is, it’s all in the jalapeños.

From the Food Network site, Ree Drummond’s recipe for “Cowboy Cheese Bites”:

(#7) Puff pastry, butter, grated manchego cheese, grated Parmesan, sliced jalapeños: bite-sized, with the bite of jalapeño peppers


4 Responses to “I do like a bit of cowboy butter to my meat”

  1. Neal Goldfarb Says:

    So if there’s cowboy butter and compound butter, and if cowboy butter is a kind of compound butter, does that make cowboy compound butter the world’s shortest example of zeugma?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Really ingenious proposal, but probably way too subtle. The noun butter is understood the same way in both interpretations (as referring to the dairy product), so the zeugma would lie in the different semantic relationships between butter and its modifying N: Use for cowboy butter, Predicative / Copulative for compound butter ‘butter that is a compound (substance)’. I’d expect that, without some set-up in previous context, most people wouldn’t notice the failure of parallelism. But you’re right that to see the expression as not zeugmatic, you’d have to suppose it was either about butter that is a cowboy (Predicative / Copulative all around) or about butter of the sort that compound substances use for some purpose or another (Use all around), both of which are real-world absurd. Unfortunately, it’s taken *me* about 40 minutes to work all this out; granted, I’m a naturally slow thinker, but still I think the zeugma is ridiculously wispy.

  2. Neal Goldfarb Says:

    Wow, you’ve spent *way* more time thinking about this than I did. I was only half serious; I mainly wanted to riff on the overlaps among “cowboy butter,” “cowboy compound,” and “compound butter.”

    But speaking of zeugma, I have a terminological question for you.

    What would you call a zeugmoid in which, instead of the relevant noun being repeated, there is a pronoun coindexed with the noun? Would it be a zeugma? a zeugmoid? a zeugmaoid? a zeugmaphor?

    BTW, this question is prompted by the following honest-to-god attested uses from the late-18th century (in which you should assume that each time “bear arms” appears, it is used in its idiomatic military sense (e.g., ‘serve in the military’)):

    1. Every where they manifested the most ardent desire of learning the art of war; and every individual who could bear arms, was most assiduous in procuring them, and learning their exercise

    2. when the members of communities were permitted to bear arms, and were trained to the use of these

    3. Can any dependence, said he, be placed in men who are conscientious in this respect [= conscientiously objecting to bearing arms]? or what justice can there be in compelling them to bear arms, when, according to their religious principles, they would rather die than use them?

    4. The wide extent of country might very possibly contain a million of warriors, as all who were of age to bear arms were of a temper to use them.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Hey, you’re someone to be taken seriously (even when you’re being playful), so I tried to answer your question.

      As for the bear arms examples, they’re squarely in zeugmatic territory, but neither classic zeugmas (where the ambivalently used expression occurs just once in any form) nor what I’ve called zeugmoids (where the ambivalently used expression is repeated wholesale); instead, the ambivalently used expression appears once as is and once in the form of an anaphoric definite personal pronoun.

      In general, I’d view such anaphoric pronouns as filling the slots of full NPs, so I’d view these zeugmatic expressions as a sub-type of zeugmoids (“pro-zeugmoids”, maybe).

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