Wild and woolly


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Wild and woolly'?

Other phrases with

Lawless and uncultured.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Wild and woolly'?

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 Negrillo”, 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.

Trend of wild and woolly in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.