New racist etymology

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 15 00:53:33 UTC 2013

buck soldier: HDAS, 1865.

buck private: HDAS, 1874.

buck sergeant: HDAS, 1934.

buck general: HDAS, 1944-46.

Since "buck private" had the frequent synonym "buck," I have little doubt
that it comes from "young buck private/ soldier."


On Thu, Mar 14, 2013 at 8:10 PM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at>wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: New racist etymology
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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...
> VS-)
> 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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