Friday, November 16, 2012

That Old Chesnut: I'm still going to call them buffalo

Guys, you know what is a fun word? BUFFALO. It is silly. And so are the animals! I mean these guys:

They are like bros at the gym who only lift weights on the upper half of their bodies.
But no! Did you know that you have been calling these fellows buffaloes all of your life, but they are NOT (scientifically speaking) actually buffaloes. Nay, they are BISON. Surely you are familiar with this term, but you probably like me either thought it was interchangeable with "buffalo," or didn't care if it was inappropriate to use with the American bison because it is fun to say. But in fact, buffalo refers to various oxen-type animals living in Eurasia and Africa. Maybe people in North America wanted to pretend that bison were totally just like other buffaloes so they wouldn't feel so bad about this. Though there are also European bison that look at lot like the American kind and are called wisent.*

Does anybody else feel like this is a little bit racist?
But so the word buffalo's origins! I know you are all deeply invested in etymologeez, which is why you read That Old Chesnut so voraciously,** so I have consulted the OED (which I won't bother linking because if you don't have a subscription through a university library or you are so nerdy you have paid for a personal one, you cannot actually access it). But you can believe me that I am faithfully reporting to you that "buffalo" came into English by way of Greek, Latin, and ultimately probably Portuguese to mean a type of antelope or any wild ox basically. So technically speaking, that should extend to American bison because what is it but a big bovine thing? But so water buffalo (domesticated and wild), the anoa or dwarf/midget buffalo (not so PC, science), and probably some other animals are actually buffalo, while bison are not.

To review:

Don't worry, I still love our fake American buffalo, and will continue to call them that. But I'll know the truth, and so will you. Now go be one with this. You're welcome.

*Also the name of a Polish vodka flavored by bison grass. I believe I drank it in some sampler flight at Moscow on the Hill once and was like, "Not so much on this one."
**Haha, just kidding, I know people only come here to read energy drink reviews or that classic Andrew Jackson presidential post. Or you read Captain Awkward. Sweet, wonderful, wise Captain Awkward. Or you're looking for Sexy Gay Jesus porn. Sadly, you will have to make your own, but could you please let me know when it happens?

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