New racist etymology

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 15 00:10:34 UTC 2013

OED has "buck private" (under buck adj.2) back to 1918. the other
illustrations, save for the 1955 one all are "buck private". The
exception is "buck sergeant".
Artillery Back From Trenches. Members of Gun Crew that Fired First Shot.
Ready for Rest. Will Instruct.
Gettysburg Times. Nov. 9, 1917. p. 2/2
> One gunner remarked that he would rather have had that experience and
> honor as a "buck private" than to be a major general.

Oddly enough, there are no earlier references to "buck private" in GNA,
although there is a bunch from 1918-1919. The expression "from the
general [X] to buck private"--or vice versa--seems to be the most common
of these.

OED offers no clear provenance other than "US slang". The etymology note
suggests "Probably < buck n.1 2.", but that's hardly convincing, as 2.a.
has only one referent from 1303 (and it's "buckys" there!), 2.b. suggest
something that is clearly linked to "young buck": " A gay, dashing
fellow; a dandy, fop, ‘fast’ man. Used also as a form of familiar
address." 2.c. offers very little ("unlicensed cab driver" in 1861 quote
from London and another unhelpful quote from the 1865 Morning Star).

The only one that might make some sense is the one we were discussing, 2.d.:

> d. offensive. A male American Indian or Australian Aborigine; any
> black male. So buck Aborigine, buck Indian, buck Maori, buck Negro,
> buck nigger. Also (illogically) buck-woman. Chiefly U.S. and Austral.

I'm not even sure why these four are lumped together, as two of them
seem to suggest exact opposites, and only the last one is US usage (and
Australian, but that's another issue). The 2.d. seems to be more closely
connected to buck n.1 1., especially 1.b. "The male of a fallow-deer"
and 1.c. "The male of a certain animal resembling deer or goats... Also
male of the hare... and the ferret." These are all connected by
etymology (extensive note in OED on buc/bucca), with an additional
pointed to the Dutch "bok" for South African use. Comparing
Natives/slaves to herd animals (or rabbits) would not be surprising in
the least. "Young buck" (at least, in US usage) may well have ended up
the same way, which leaves something of a loose end in 2.b.

Which leads me back to "buck private/sergeant". A male of an "animal"
species? A "gay, dashing fellow; a dandy, fop"...? A "young buck"? Then
why the lowest rank? The first one (male of an animal) seems
incongruous. The second, outside of the context of a parade, seems just
bizarre. The "injun" of the soldiery doesn't quite fit the bill.

Speaking of "bill", might there be a connection with buck=dollar, each
being token currency to throw at a shortage? Just a thought...


On 3/14/2013 8:04 AM, W Brewer wrote:
> WB: Circa 1972, Ft MacArthur, our battalion CO apologized to the troops for
> using the words _black_{buck_sergeant_} (not _black_buck_{sergeant}).  He
> had been referring to an African American sergeant E-5. But being a **buck
> sergeant** was okay (and macho sounding) still around 1985, in my
> experience. What about now?

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