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The meaning and origin of the expression: Wild and woolly

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Wild and woolly

Meaning

Lawless and uncultured.

Origin

This expression is of American origin and came into being to describe the 'wild' west of the country sometime after the Californian Gold Rush era of the 1850s. The US publication The Protestant Episcopal Quarterly Review and Church Register, 1855, included a reference to the "wild and woolly-haired Negillo", which is almost there.

The first example I can find of the precise phrase in print is in the Missouri newspaper The Sedalia Daily Democrat, December 1875:

"W. A. Palmer, the South Bend, Indiana, murderer and paramour of Dolly Tripp, was for several years resident of Clinton. Bill always was one of the 'wild and woolly' kind and would associate with the demimonde."

See other phrases that were coined in the USA.