buckaroo

A friend of mine once wrote in an e-mail: “Will do, buckaroo.” Spanish speakers may recognize that the colloquial buckaroo, which entered English in the 1800s, is just an Anglicized version of vaquero ‘cowboy,’ with the b of buckaroo doing a good job in representing the Spanish pronunciation of v. Although Spanish vaquero (from vaca) and English cowboy both refer to the cattle that the workers herded, the men actually rode horses. That may explain the reshaping of the first part of vaquero to English buck, which is what an unbroken horse often does when a cowboy first tries to ride it. We also note that the middle-syllable stress of the Spanish original has been bucked onto the last syllable of the English version.

The use of buck as a verb, which comes from the noun buck that means ‘a male animal,’ also goes back to the cowboy days of the 1800s. Writing to you from Texas, I can’t resist quoting what Farmer and Henley said about that usage in their famous Slang and Its Analogues, whose seven volumes gradually got published from 1890 to 1904:

“This term, as applied to horses, consists in plunging forward and throwing the head to the ground in an effort to unseat the rider—a motion of which probably no domesticated beast is capable, aside from the Texan miserable and treacherous species of horse. A raw hand thus relates his experience:—‘When I was told how hard he could buck, I only laughed, my impression being that no pony standing on four legs could throw me off. I mounted my new horse, and waving my brand new hat about my head, galloped away in a dignified style. Suddenly the horse stopped. His ears went back, and his hind legs went between his front. The motion was a curious one. But I did not fall. Realizing that the man on his back could ride a little bit, the pony got right down to business. My stomach seemed to fly up into my mouth and millions of stars floated about my head. I am not prepared to state what kind of hold the pony got on me, but I went sprawling on the ground, my nose making an irrigating ditch. It was all done not more than one hundred yards from where my girl was standing. I stuck on well, however, as the saddle, blanket, gun and bridle came off with me. The wild yell that greeted my exploit nearly drove me mad. While I spit the dirt and curses out of my mouth, I thought that if I had that pony back I’d break him in or break my head. It ran out on the prairie and joined the Government herd. When an old-timer tried to fix things for me in front of my girl by saying, “It’s no disgrace, pardner, that horse can buck off a porous plaster,” I thanked him from the bottom of my heart.’”

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim R
    May 31, 2017 @ 07:03:41

    As we visited Cuba in 2015, we often noticed references to the city of Habana.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 31, 2017 @ 08:58:35

      The v and b in Spanish have fallen together. The resulting sound varies a little but is similar to an English b. Between vowels the sound “loosens” and the lips don’t fully close.

      Reply

  2. shoreacres
    May 31, 2017 @ 20:18:14

    What a wonderful story. I think my favorite line is, “Realizing that the man on his back could ride a little bit, the pony got right down to business.” I like that he ran off to join the government herd, too. I saw a few of those herds in Kansas. Maybe one of the pony’s descendants was in the midst of them.

    Now, I’ll go for the trifecta: Buck Owens and his Buckaroos performing “Buckaroo. Believe it or not, they used to play that at our roller rink.

    Reply

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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