Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Butt naked

The phrase "butt naked" has long made my blood boil. (There are certain "errors" that just do it.) I hear it and suppress the urge to scream: "It's buck naked. Buck naked!"

And so I found this post at Language Log all the more interesting. There's talk that the "buck" in question may actually derive from "butt": (as "stark naked" comes from the older "start naked").

Mark Liberman quotes the Dictionary of American Regional English saying: "BUCK NAKED - adjective. Also buck-ass naked, buck-born ~, stark buck ~. Origin uncertain, but perhaps alteration of butt/buttocks. Entirely unclothed." And the American Heritage Dictionary (perhaps echoing DARE, Liberman says) has "Etymology: buck- (perhaps alteration of butt) + naked."

Many wordsmiths argue that "buck" is shortened from "buckskin," as "buff" came from "buffalo leather." Michael Quinion writes:
Buff leather was a characteristic light colour, not unlike that of the skin of Europeans exposed to the sun, so it soon led to the expression to be in the buff, or naked. Thomas Dekker is first recorded as using it in 1602: “I go in stag, in buff” (the first part of that line brings to mind the much later expression buck naked, from buckskin, a similar sort of derivation).
In any case, the jury's out. I'd still change "butt naked" to "buck naked" if the occasion arose.

But it's a nice chicken-and-egg lesson.


At 1:17 PM, March 08, 2005, Blogger Dan said...

I prefer "buck naked" as well, but where'd the "prevalent usage" judgment come from? A regular Google search turns up way more "butt naked"s than "buck naked"s.

At 4:13 PM, March 08, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

You're probably right, Dan. It's hard to know for sure by Google because of the band and film names that contain "butt naked" and therefore should be taken out. But "butt naked" is probably still more prevalent.

I edited the post accordingly.

At 2:42 PM, August 02, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting all variants. An old-timer once told me the term originated with the domestication of animals (especially horses) for passenger use. The animal was dressed when wearing a saddle or a blanket and naked when not. When breaking an animal for riding, the rider rode the animal while it was naked or "bare" hence bareback. As the animal tended to buck when being broken, the term buck naked came about as the animal preferred to be naked (without saddle or blanket and without rider of course)



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