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Buck naked

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 06, 2010 at 21:42

In Reply to: Buck naked posted by Baceseras on March 05, 2010 at 14:48:

: : : : Referring to to phase "buck naked", I am almost sixty years old and have heard this phrase all my life. The word "buck" referrs to a male native american indian. The phrase "buck naked" comes from the fact that back in the early days (pre 1900) male indians would be seen riding their horses to a river or stream to bathe or do what ever, and would be totally naked on the horse. White people would see them and thus the phrase "Buck naked" was born. Coming from Oklahoma where we have many native Amercans, I believe this to be true. The use of the word "butt" is just a misunderstanding of the word "buck"

: : : [Some such origin is conceivable, but far from certain. It's true that by the end of the eighteenth century 'buck' was a vernacular term for an American Indian; but almost a hundred years earlier, at the beginning of the same century, it was the slang term for a daring young man about metropolitan England. The OED cites a 1725 'New Canting Dictionary' for this sense. It's not implausible as the source of an attribution of impudent behavior, or flaunting indecency. Or we can look farther back: by the eleventh century 'buck' was settled in English as a term for some wild animals, such as goat, ram, or the male deer; and the contrast, though obvious, is frequently mentioned, between the nakedness of the animal kingdom, and the customary clothing of civilized mankind. And there's still another possibility: there may be an obsolete use of 'buck' to mean the body or carcase of an animal, or especially the trunk or abdomen - and this may in turn be the source of the 'buck' or beam of a saw-buck, or a buck-board wagon. If so (and this is merest speculation), a rural remembrance of 'buck' as meaning 'body' may be all the point of the saying 'buck-naked.' -B.]

: :
: : I remembered reading back in 1996, during one of the Liberian civil wars, of atrocities committed by a rebel group of 12-year-old boys that was nicknamed "Butt Naked" because they fought naked. The article is still online at Of course the nation of Liberia was founded by freed slaves returning to Africa from the U.S., so possibly the "butt naked" version of "buck naked" went with them?

: [The official language of Liberia is English, so the variation could have developed there as well as elsewhere. - Bac.]

I have wondered about "buck naked" and have the same opinion about "butt naked" as expressed above, namely, that it is derived from "buck naked" and means only "naked," or perhaps completely or shockingly naked.

Somewhat to my surprise, the Oxford English Dictionary does not have this expression. It disucssues a great variety of uses of the work "buck," but never in association with "naked." It includes the use of the word as denominating a male (as in buck vs. doe), and quotes several associations with South American Indians, North American Indians, Negroes, and assorted flavors of males other than white.

Yes, the OED also discusses the British concept of "young bucks," but they seem unrelated to "buck naked."

The OED obviously doesn't mention male Indians riding their horses to water-holes, but it may be relevant that South American Indians who live near the equator or in tropical climates are sometimes reported as wearing little if any clothing.

It is probably best to regard the origin of the expression as unsolved, or unknown, but I can imagine that it might have something to do with Indian "bucks," though I prefer to call them "braves," or just men.