Word of the day: cowboy

If, like many foreign students, the main image that comes into your head when you think of cowboys involves men in big hats and long boots, riding horses and heading off into the sunset somewhere in America, then you may be wondering what on earth the photo above has to do with cowboys.


You’d probably also wonder what newspaper headlines like those below meant as well:

Calls for harsher penalties for cowboy developers after historic pub demolished.

Cowboy builders jailed after targetting elderly couple.

Clampdown on cowboy car-clampers



At least here in the UK, most of the time when you hear the word cowboy being used, it’s to complain about people in business who provide goods or services that are of poor quality. Cowboy workmen – and they almost always men, incidentally – also often try to rip you off: they try to cheat or trick you in order to get more money from you. In fact, the whole issue of dishonest, untrustworthy workmen has become so big here that there’s even been a TV series – Cowboy Builders - dedicated to tracking down rogue traders who don’t follow the normal rules and regulations and exposing their tricks.


Next, I’ll briefly summarise the stories behind the headlines above: last week, a historic pub in Melbourne, Australia, was knocked down illegally by cowboy builders who didn’t have permission to act, and who want to build on the land. The Planning Minster Richard Wynne has said: “This is a complete outrage! The hotel was 159 years old and two cowboys come along, ignore all of the demolition and planning permit rules and knock the place down.”

The second story involved a gang of three men who tried to charge an elderly couple in Wales over £10,000 for some basic work they’d done on their garage.

Finally, following a flood of complaints, authorities have started getting tough and have decided to clamp down and insist that people who fit locks on the wheels of cars that have been parked illegally have an official license. There have been all sorts of horror stories about people returning to their cars, finding they’ve been clamped and then having to pay hundreds of pounds to have the locks removed.

Of course, there are also horror stories about cowboy language schools and students being ripped off. Not an experience you’d ever have with us here at Lexical Lab!

Check out out summer school courses here.

  • Are cowboy builders common in your country? Have you heard any horror stories?
  • What would you do if you’d been the victim of poor quality work?
  • How do you think you can avoid falling prey to cowboys?
  • Can you think of other things that have received a flood of complaints?
  • Have the police or the authorities recently clamped down on anything where you live?
  • Have you ever been ripped off? When? What happened?

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