Tag Archives: etymology of boc

Cassidese Glossary – Buck

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

The word buck meaning a male animal or a party animal is very similar in sound and meaning to the Irish boc, with a similar set of meanings. Some scholars regard boc as being a borrowing from Old English, though there are similar words in other Celtic languages. However, whatever the relationship between the English word buck and the Irish word boc, there is no doubt that the English word buck goes back to a Middle English word bucke and then to an Old English word bucca. In other words, it has been in English for so long that it is very unlikely to be a borrowing from Irish, and it has cognates in other Germanic languages which make a direct Celtic origin improbable.

Cassidy gets around these inconvenient facts by taking a quotation from MacBain’s Gaelic Etymological Dictionary of 1896 and misinterpreting it:

MacBain’s dictionary derives buck from boc, and the Gaelic languages, and thence to a Sanskrit root: “boc, a buck, Irish boc, he-goat, Old Irish bocc, Welsh bwch, Cornish boch, Breton bouch’h, bukko-s; Sanskrit bukka, goat.” (MacBain’s Gaelic Etymological Dictionary, 1896, [1982].)

Just look again at the quotation given by Cassidy above. MacBain categorically does not derive buck from boc. He is deriving the modern Gaelic and Irish word boc from Old Irish and comparing this to a Sanskrit root. (Sanskrit is an ancient Indo-European language – it provides cognates of other Indo-European languages. It is not Proto-Indo-European and Celtic and Germanic languages do not derive their vocabulary or roots ‘from’ Sanskrit.) MacBain is not saying anything about the relationship between boc and buck beyond that buck is the English translation of boc. The clue’s in the name. MacBain’s dictionary is an etymological dictionary of Gaelic – it’s not about the etymology of English words.