New racist etymology

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 15 12:23:52 UTC 2013

By the time "buck private" became fully lexicalized, I imagine that its
origin from "buck" 'young fellow' was already fading from consciousness.

IIRC, "buck soldier" was more common in the 19th C., but the number of
recorded instances of both is vanishingly small and probably no conclusion
 should be drawn.  (Except for 1861-65, the army was tiny and there wasn't
a lot of interest in writing about it, especially about enlisted men.)

Perhaps coincidentally, the earliest "buck soldier" and "buck private" both
come from the regular army out West. I've never encountered either being
used in the Civil War, from which a zillion words of text survive.

I believe that by the time of the Spanish-American War, "buck private" was
very well established.

A "buck general" is indeed a brigadier general. Apparently mostly brigadier
generals use it.

"Buck colonel" isn't in HDAS, and I believe the only example I ever saw
came within the past decade.

Unless he's being redundant, Brit Jon Green is much in error when he
asserts that a "buck private" is "a private soldier trying for promotion."
It's a private regardless of what he or she is doing or thinking.

"Buck lieutenant" (formerly a "shavetail") has appeared even more recently.
See Google Books.


On Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 2:17 AM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: New racist etymology
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Thanks, Jon! I once again left my HDAS at home and unable to dig things
> up before sending, but, at least, it prompted a mind reevaluation.
> "Young buck private" was the thing that made the most sense if "buck
> private" was in use going back to the Civil War. Still wondering,
> though, why "young buck" or "buck" would imply the lowest ranks (has
> some growing to do?).
>      VS-)
> On 3/14/2013 8:53 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> > 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."
> >
> > JL
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