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Buck naked, butt naked

No one knows the exact origins of buck naked, which means completely naked, but the American Heritage Dictionary says it’s from the U.S. South. The earliest example we can find in historical Google News searches (which of course are very limited) is from 1915, and the term gradually becomes more common as the century progresses.

Despite what some sources say, butt naked is not wrong. It’s just a newer form. Even that is disputed, though, as some have conjectured that the buck in buck naked was originally an alteration of butt. Still, the earliest instances of butt naked we can find are from the 80s.

Plus, both buck naked and butt naked are slang terms, and you’re not likely to see either used in earnest in any type of formal text. When it comes to slang terms, colloquialisms, and idioms, questions of right and wrong are irrelevant because these things by definition don’t conform to any so-called standard English. So if you’re going to use buck naked or butt naked, it’s safe to use the one you like better.

On the web, butt naked is more common than buck naked by a ratio of about three to one. In searches covering edited content, though, buck naked is far more common, which suggests that many writers and editors consider it the more acceptable form.


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Examples

At those prices I would be sitting buck naked at a desk, writing a column with a goose quill pen. [Beaver Valley Times (1950)

He said he was running around his house butt-naked, looking for his cassette player. [Newsday (1990)]

He practically steals the picture via his buck-naked, high-speed motorcycle ride. [AV Club]

The father has walked around butt naked when he knew my wife was in the kitchen. [Waterloo Record]

The idealised figure, in the Roman style – half god, half emperor, buck naked – is so heavy that the floor had to be reinforced to support it.  [Sydney Morning Herald]

“He was a bit surprised that there were two people in his room and he was butt naked,” Mr Watt said. [quote in The Age (Melbourne, Australia)]

Other resources

Language Log offers a more thorough take
“Buck Naked” at the Mavens’ Word of the Day

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Comments

  1. Pretty sure “buck naked” appears more often in news publications because it is less vulgar.

  2. “Butt naked” is probably used more by those under, say, 40 years of age; thus, it’s no surprise it’s on the web more.  “Buck naked” is the older form, thus most used currently by those in editorial control as these folks are probably over 40. 

    I’d always heard that it had to do with “bucks”–boys or young men–being naked–as in the case with a “stripling” in Roman days. For Native Americans, it was probably common to have few clothes until a certain age, especially in the summer. For enslaved African-Americans, it may’ve been connected with poverty for youngsters, but may also have to do with degrading nudity or near nudity at slave auctions. 

  3. Virginmary says:

    Poop poop poopy poop

  4. Mr Good Taste says:

    “Butt naked” is what I say because the butt is naked.

  5. IMHO, it seems to me that “butt naked” is short hand for “with (his,her) butt naked. Example: He sprinted, with his butt naked, down the stairs. or He sprinted, butt naked, down the stairs. In this case “naked” is an adjective modifying the noun “butt”. “Buck naked” seems more likely to have come from the simile “naked as a buck”. I tend to agree with Ebd2140 on the source and intent of buck. One can easily imagine this simile evolving into “buck naked”, the simile “naked as a jaybird” evolving into “jaybird naked”, or the simile “smart as a Jeopardy contestant” evolving into “Jeopardy smart”. Dissenting opinions are most welcome.

  6. frambley1 says:

    I have always thought it was Buck Naked, like a male deer because that is the state of a deer. But I see Ebd2140’s point about young male humans being referred to as bucks.

    I have always thought the use of the word Butt is just a misunderstanding of the original term. That version of it has never made sense to me, because saying your butt is naked conveys less information than just saying you’re naked.

    Not arguing with any information, just relating what I have always thought about it.

  7. Charles Avent says:

    My grandmother, who was born in May of 1900, used to say “buck naked”. When I was very young, 10 years or so, I said, “What’s ‘buck naked’? and I remember her answer. She said, “It means that you are as naked as a buck deer.” With that in mind, I would believe that the original saying would be “Buck Naked”, due to the difference in proper language, at the early 1900s. People did not use foul language in “mixed company” or in proper society. To use that type of language was never done in public. Use of the word “butt” would have been as vulgar, in those days, as the “F” word, in today’s society.

  8. Buck naked is from the south, and butt naked is yet another stupid brought to us by the north.

  9. Duffy Johnson says:

    “Butt-naked” is wrong. It’s a mass-misunderstood/misheard phrase that has somehow been accepted as an alternative for the correct phrase, “buck-naked”.

  10. Gemma King says:

    The term “buck naked” refers to the state a deer is in after being skinned. ~Southern Girl

  11. Frank Rademakers says:

    I haven’t read all your comments but when I hear the expression ‘buck naked’ I think of money. Someone who does not even have one dollar…now I am Dutch. This is probably one reason why this expression reminds me of money ;-)

  12. Igor Kalashnikov says:

    Butt naked is more commonly used by Negroes I have observed.

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