Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Barbara asked about the origin of buck tooth, and also pointed out that buck is a versatile word. That it is.

Buck tooth comes from buck, once upon a time either a male deer or a he-goat. Someone evidently saw a resemblance between the large projecting tooth found in these animals and in some humans.

Aside from the animal, there are at least a dozen more instances of the noun buck in the Oxford English Dictionary.

  • a dandy or fop
  • a short vaulting-horse in a gym
  • a shortened version of buckwheat
  • a vat in which to steep clothes in lye
  • a large basket used to catch eels
  • the carcass of an animal
  • the body of a cart; it had a buckboard
  • a T-shaped end to a plough beam used to steer the draft animals
  • a framework for resting pieces of wood while they are being cut
  • a dollar (possibly from the fact that deerskin was once a trading item)
  • an inanimate object signifying the identity of the current dealer in a poker game (possibly from the fact that the object was often a knife with a deer-horn handle); hence the terms to pass the buck or the buck stops here.
  • boastful talk

  • Buckaroo has nothing to do with deer; it is a corruption of vaquero (herdsman or cattle-driver).
  • The Buckeyes were named after the horse-chestnut tree, evidently common in Ohio, and the tree was named after the supposed resemblance of its seed pod to a stag’s eye.
  • Sawbuck became the slang term for a $10 bill because the ends of a buck (the framework for cutting wood) were X-shaped, and X was the Roman numeral for 10.
  • Buckle isn’t connected at all. It comes from the Latin bucca (cheek). The original buckle was found on the cheek strap of a helmet.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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