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The proverbial buffalo

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 18, 2010 at 16:44

In Reply to: The proverbial buffalo posted by David FG on April 18, 2010 at 06:25:

: : : : : : : : : A quick question - I'm translating a contemporary British novel, and ran into this sentence: "He will have to run headlong into it, like the proverbial buffalo into the storm." This seems to refer to some well-known idiom, but I can't think of any that would fit the bill. Any ideas?

: : : : : : : : You said the author is British, right? And there aren't any buffaloes native to Great Britain. Well, there are in the U.S. (although not in the northeast, where I live), and I've never heard such an expression. I can imagine buffaloes, like musk oxen, facing a storm, especially when protecting their young, but "run headlong" suggests a situation I'm not familiar with.

: : : : : : : : I do have a suggestion. Just translate what the author says, and don't worry about whether it makes sense or not.
: : : : : : : : SS

: : : : : : : SS is of course right when he says there are no Buffalo in the British Isles, but then there are no lions or elephants either, and the Brits have phrases involving those...

: : : : : : : Having said that, I have never heard the phrase either, so if it is a genuine proverb it is presumably a fairly obscure one.

: : : : : : : I am led to suspect the original writer was using the word 'proverbial' in a 'loose' (ie 'wrong') sense, rather in the way some people use the word 'literally' when they actually mean nothing of the sort.

: : : : : : : DFG

: : : : : An odd behavioural trait of the North American Bison (buffalo) is to stand and face into a storm rather than seeking shelter or turning away. With the thickest part of their coat being at the front and their massive head and shoulders to block the wind, this stance helps to protect their core temperature. I have heard the phrase "like a buffalo in a snow storm" to mean facing a challenge head-on rather than shying away or turning your back. This is the connection although it seems a little garbled. I can see no good coming from actually charging headlong into a prairie blizzard, even if I was a buffalo. That conjures up a sense of being foolhardy or fighting a battle that can't be won (farting against thunder?), instead of being steadfast.

: : : : I believe John when he says he has heard the phrase, "like a buffalo in a snow storm." The U.S Government (by way of the U.S. Cavalry) spent more than half a century trying to destroy all the buffalo on the continent. I'm surprised that there was enough interest to coin a phrase about buffalo behavior.

: : : : As to heading into the wind during a storm, I had the notion that that was a common behavior among bovines generally, even if there was no storm, but just a noticeable breeze. In any case, it's hard to imagine that prairie-swelling buffalo had any shelter to seek.
: : : : .............

: : : : Not that I wish to flog a dead horse, but David has correctly pointed out that Brits have phrases referring to lions and elephants (although surely not many). There was a time when the sun never set on the British Empire, including lands where the lion and the elephant roamed. I have never heard, however, that the British flag ever flew over the North American prairie.

: : : Ah, Smokey, Smokey, Smokey...

: : : The Union Flag might not have fluttered over the US prairie, but you might be aware of what I believe is a fairly sizeable chunk of land a wee bit to the north, which I think is called Canada.

: : : There are bison/buffalo there...

: : : (And I am, of course, teasing you.)

: : : DFG

: : Thanks for reminding me of the Canadian bison. Do they run headlong into the storm? I've seen the Canadian prairie (some of it), but not the Canadian bison.
: : SS

: Erm, I am, I am afraid, not what one might describe as an authority on bison - Canadian or otherwise.

: Where aficionados of big wild bovines foregather, my name is not whispered in hushed tones.


Then I will give you one piece of inf ormation about bison that may be useful when the conversation slows.

At the annual rut, the bison, like many of their other mammalian counterparts, compete for the babes. The winners, who actually get the babes, are no more than twenty percent of the bulls in the contest. The losers get no babes at all, and don't get to have sex with any of them. Only about one in five of the bulls gets to mount the cows. Sounds like high school, doesn't it?