35

"Butt naked" or "buck naked" both refer to completely naked, or do they? Where the phrase comes from I have no idea but that would be of interest.

This is a phrase I am too afraid to google and wouldn't know if I came upon an authoritative source.

  • "Buck" in military language means "of the lowest possible rank" among several possibilities; hence "buck private" or "buck sergeant". – Carl Brannen Apr 27 '11 at 22:44
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    Another possibility is "buck" as (offensive) slang for a male Native American; who presumably wears little clothes. – Carl Brannen Apr 27 '11 at 22:45
  • It was "buck nekkid" for Faulkner. – Callithumpian Apr 28 '11 at 2:48
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    Check this Language Log post on the question. Answer: inconclusive. And its somewhat more conclusive follow-up. – Callithumpian Apr 28 '11 at 3:17
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    I am with the crowd that says buck naked. I have heard it since my childhood over half a century ago. – user16529 Jan 1 '12 at 4:04
7

They're both "correct", and they both mean "totally naked" (although "butt naked" can mean "bare buttocks").

The etymology of "Buck naked" is apparently lost to time, I'm afraid. To add to the list of suggestions already made: From the phrase "as naked as a buck deer" (which apparently is similar to the phrase "naked as a jay-bird").

  • According to commentary on other answers, "buck" was once slang for a Native American. Jay was slang for a hillbilly, although that might be unrelated. – Potatoswatter Apr 28 '11 at 6:22
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    Yep, I saw that, but there's nothing to conclusively tie it to "buck naked", unfortunately. Another theory states that it's just a bowdlerization of "butt naked", but MrHen seems to have proven that "buck" came before "butt". – Django Reinhardt Apr 28 '11 at 10:05
  • What I've always heard was that the phrase "buck naked" is a reference to young Native American men who commonly went naked during the summer. They were known as bucks, thus the phrase "naked as a young buck" or just "buck naked" – Mike Fulton Aug 30 '12 at 0:43
  • An anonymous editor offers another possibility: "In the American West, Indian males of many plains tribes wore loincloths and little else in the summer months. Male Indians were often derogatorily referred to as "bucks". So if you had little or no clothing you were "naked as a buck" or buck naked." – Django Reinhardt May 30 '17 at 9:45
40

"Buck naked" is the older term:

NGram graph

Both phrases currently mean the same thing but one could argue for "butt naked" meaning someone with a naked butt.

EDIT: "Older" in the context I used it above appears to be either incorrect or extremely misleading. Other, conflicting, sources are popping up so it is good to take this graph with a grain of salt. It also doesn't surprise me that other variations exist (e.g. bare-butt naked).

I think it is safe to call this one a tie: Either variation is perfectly acceptable and anyone claiming that one is "more" correct is just shoehorning their experiences onto the English language.

  • @MrHen: This graph actually shows earlier evidence of butt naked if looked at closely. The Language Log discussion I linked to above says scholars disagree about which came first. – Callithumpian Apr 28 '11 at 12:33
  • Yes, I was just going to say, your graph clearly shows BUTT naked came first, not BUCK. Here's a zoomed in version: ngrams.googlelabs.com/… – Django Reinhardt May 8 '11 at 22:41
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    @Django: Good point but don't forget that the NGrams are not a perfect science. They merely report on what books Google has in their library and don't account for things like "bare-butt naked" or specifically referring to a butt being naked. – MrHen May 9 '11 at 1:56
  • @MrHen, True, but your answer still reads weirdly. You say with confidence that "Buck" came first and use a graph to prove it... that shows "Butt" came first :) – Django Reinhardt May 9 '11 at 11:05
  • @Django: I am still confident that buck is the "older" term. But I also added an edit in an attempt to clarify. The graph pretty clearly shows that buck is the dominant term but I don't feel like sifting through the results to read all of the butt vs bare usages just now. In any case, as I say in the answer: "I think it is safe to call this one a tie." Also note that Calli said the exact same thing you did. – MrHen May 9 '11 at 12:53
16

Here's some earliest uses (I could find) for what they're worth.

buck naked: Scarlet Sister Mary, Julia Peterkin, 1928 (date check):

http://books.google.com/books?id=CKcvJx4mQI8C&pg=PA33&img=1&pgis=1&dq=buck+naked&sig=ACfU3U0xs6tSbJPVlOqQ_0mPgUGDK1DklA&edge=0

(bare)-butt naked: Never Need an Enemy, Aaron Marc Stein, 1959 (date check):

http://books.google.com/books?id=eg5HAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA90&img=1&pgis=1&dq=butt+naked&sig=ACfU3U1CF6Q-VVFL-KeFN3jtaNHpknYw7A&edge=0

  • I wouldn't count this second citation since in this case "butt" is clearly more tightly associated with "bare" as indicated by the hyphen. But it could be part of the genesis of "butt naked". – hippietrail Apr 30 '11 at 9:29
4

Both variants are correct. I suspect there are numerous people who have always heard one variant and may not even know there is a similar phrase.


Edit: It's been well established that Google Trends is not the best tool for this job. The results below are presented as a curiosity until somebody can explain the anomaly. Why are more people searching the less common term? Or how is this test broken?

According to Google trends, "butt naked" is the far more common variant by about an order of magnitude, "buck naked" not having shown up on the scene until about 2007.

  • Blue: "buck naked" 1.00
  • Red: "butt naked" 13.4

enter image description here

  • 1
    Funny thing is that my relatives are arguing about this on Facebook and we all agree that the correct term is "buck naked" and we swear we've heard it that way all our lives. (I'm approaching mid 50s.) So I'm pretty sure it has to predate 2007. I'll upvote your useful answer when I get my votes back in 2 hours. – Carl Brannen Apr 27 '11 at 22:09
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    Er... NGrams strongly suggests the opposite. – MrHen Apr 27 '11 at 22:17
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    Google Trends is not the right tool for linguistic frequency analyis. NGrams is the better option. We lexicographers have been using straight Google searches a long time for quick checks of things like this; "butt naked" returns 1.75 mil, "buck naked" nets almost 2 mil, suggesting the latter is more common. Of course, "buck naked" is the preferred term, probably meaning "naked as a deer." – The Raven Apr 28 '11 at 0:33
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    Maybe "butt naked" appeared in the lyrics of a song? – Andrew Grimm Apr 28 '11 at 3:23
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    Or people are more likely to purposely search for naked butts than naked bucks. – Potatoswatter Apr 28 '11 at 6:19

protected by RegDwigнt Jan 1 '12 at 13:34

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