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Re: Buffaloed

Posted by Masakim on February 21, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Buffaloed posted by ESC on February 21, 2003

: : : : : Why do they use the animal buffalo, in to be buffaloed or I was buffaloed.
: : : : : thanks

: : : : Just a guess:
: : : : The bison or buffalo is not a meek animal as it is quite threatening looking; so maybe the term "buffaloed", which means "to intimidate", is from the animal's display of confidence or authority.
: : : Where might I find the beginning of the use of the term buffaloed. Doing great so far!
: : : Thanks again,
: : : Murph

: : The earliest quotation for "buffalo" as a verb (labeled U.S. slang) in the Oxford English Dictionary is dated 1904:

: : N. Y. Even. Post 5 Oct. . . . All the rest (of the newspapers) were what we used to term in the Southwest 'buffaloed' by the McKinley myth--that is, silenced by the fear of incurring the resentment of a people taught to regard McKinley as a saint.

: : That passage implies that "buffaloed" may have been used in spoken slang much earlier than 1904.

: Here's what I found:

: BUFFALO - Verb. "Orig. West. a. to intimidate or frighten, esp. by means of mere bluff; to cow. 1891 Lummis 'David' 84: The boy's a good boy, 'n' he shain't be buffalered while I'm 'round'." From the "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, A-G" by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994.

: That's the meaning I am familiar with. "That little boy has his parents buffaloed."

: Here's a slightly different take:

: TO BUFFALO SOMEONE - "1870s, to cheat or intimidate someone." From "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).

: Neither reference gives an origin. There are several possibilities - the way a buffalo herd defends itself, how an individual buffalo bluffs its enemies, the way buffalo were hunted.

The buffalo is a powerful animal, and a herd of them of them thundering across the Great Plains must have been pretty intimidating, so it's not hard to see how this sense ['to frighten or intimidate'] of the word arose. I wonder if there's another possibility. One of the definitions of buffalo is 'to cow'. The English word cow meaning 'intimidate' is unrelated to the bovine. It first appeared in the 16th century and comes from an Old Norse word meaning 'to oppress', but it sounds and looks the same as the name of the animal. I think it's conceivable that the name of another kind of bovine was substituted for the verb "cow" by people who knew that word.
Buffalo meant 'confuse' as well as 'intimidate' in late 19th-century America: "The Sioux had your wagon-train surrounded and your soldiers buffaloed" (Remington, Ermine, 1902). A 1922 citation explains "From the insensate milling of frightened bisons came that picturesque Range word 'buffaloed,' as a slangy synonym for mentally confused" (Rollins, Cowboy).
Although the senses of 'frighten' and 'confuse' are not that far apart, they appear to come from two vastly different images of the buffalo: on the one hand, we have the powerful and potentially dangerous animals stampeding across the plains, and on the other, the terrified captured herd milling about in confusion.
From The Mavens' Word of the Day (Oct 11, 2000)