A hackamore:

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  • is a type of animal headgear which does not have a bit. Instead, it has a special type of noseband that works on pressure points on the face, nose, and chin. It is most commonly associated with certain styles of riding horses.

  • The word "hackamore" is derived from the Spanish word jáquima, meaning headstall or halter, itself derived from Old Spanish xaquima. The Spanish had obtained the term from the Arabic šakīma, (bit), from šakama (to bridle). From the Americanized pronunciation of jaquima, the spelling "hackamore" entered the written English language by 1850, not long after the Mexican-American War. (Wikipedia)

The Spanish origin of the term appears to be confirmed also by Etymonline:

  • halter chiefly used for breaking horses, 1850, American English, of uncertain origin. OED and Klein suggests a corruption of Spanish jaquima (earlier xaquima) "halter, headstall of a horse,"

In the Word Origins...And How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone Anatoly Liberman explores the possible origin from a nursery rhyme starting with "Hick-a-more, Hack-a-more", but it does not appear to be related to the meaning of "halter".


  • If the origin is from the Spanish terms xaquima/jaquima, how is their "americanized" promounciation possibly related to that of "hackamore"?

  • are there other plausible suggestions to the origin of this "unusual" term?

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    Can you be more specific about why you don't see a connection? Jáquima would be pronounced as /ˈxakima/ in Spanish. In many varieties of Latin American Spanish, the phoneme /x/ is pronounced more like [h], and in any case, even if it isn't exactly the same, it is adopted by North American English speakers as the English phoneme /h/. So the first two consonants are the same in /ˈhakima/ and /ˈhækəmɔr/, the stress is in the same place, and the words have the same number of syllables. That seems like a pretty close relation to me. The addition of /r/ is odd though. – herisson Jun 17 '16 at 9:55
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    @sumelic - I think you've perfectly understood the question. And this "americanized" pronunciation sounds a bit odd to you, too, if that is to be the origin. Despite the initial "h", the rest of the term sounds quite different. – user66974 Jun 17 '16 at 9:58
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    @sumelic: In non-rhotic or weakly rhotic dialects, "hackamore" would be pronounced /ˈhækəmɔ:/ anyway. I can easily see something like that evolving from /ˈhakima/ by vowel relaxation (and then getting regularized to "hackamore", as people who learned the odd-sounding loanword through spoken language would mentally map it to a sequence of similar-sounding familiar English roots). – Ilmari Karonen Jun 17 '16 at 11:50
  • I've learned never to be surprised by Americanizations of Spanish words; one of my favorites is an old-fashioned synonym for "jail": hoosegow, which was derived from the Spanish juzgado. It's not quite as much of a stretch as xaquima /hackamore, but it is still a stretch. – MT_Head Jun 19 '16 at 7:22
  • @ilmari Karonen do you think the asker even knows what a non-rhotic dialect is? Sometimes, people provide overly technical answers to OPs who are not in the linguistic game....it must leave their heads spinning....let's not forget the verb: vamoose, change of stress, and change of meaning, but it comes from Vamos, Let's Go. – Lambie Jun 21 '16 at 18:17

The earliest occurrence in print of hackamore I have found, in this cowboy story from 1850 (very likely the source alluded to by Wikipedia and Etymonline), explicitly associates it with the Spanish term. ('Pete' is 'Dutch' or German, the 'old man' is apparently Mexican.)

“When a broncho is lassed, he is fust choked down, then a hackamore is put on him. Know what a hackamore is, Pete?”
   ”No, I tidn’t.”
   ”Wall, a hackamore is a Spanish halter, that is made so as to slip when a rider pulls on it, and draws a hoss’ nostrils together and shets his wind off.”
   ”It’s a jáquima,” said the old man; “an invention of the Moorish Arabs.”

Hackamore = /hækəmor/ is a quite natural and until you get to the very end almost inevitable Americanization:

  • The stress pattern of the two terms is identical: 3-1-2, where 3 is primary stress, 1 is wholly unstressed, and 2 is secondary stress. This significantly conditions the treatment of the vowel in each syllable.

  • As sumelic points out, /h/ is the English phoneme most similar to the sound represented in Spanish by ‹j› or ‹x›. Just for instance: the Cardinals baseball player Julian Javier was referred to by his manager and teammates as "Hoolie".

  • Spanish ‹qu› is pronounced /k/, which is exactly reflected in the conventional English spelling ‹ck›.

  • The stress pattern of the two terms is identical: 3-1-2, where 3 is primary stress, 1 is wholly unstressed, and 2 is secondary stress. This significantly conditions the treatment of the vowel in each syllable.

  • Spanish ‹a› is in fact pronounced /a/—more or less like US Southern "I" or the so-called "broad a" used by older speakers in Boston—not as many people think /ɑ/ ("ah"). This is a sound between the General American phonemes /ɑ/ and /æ/ (as in "cat"); since stressed /ɑ/ is fairly uncommon in US Englishes (except as a realization of "short o"), it tends to be realized in Americanizations as /æ/—compare "Laramie", "Alamo", "Los Angeles".

  • The Spanish /i/ is tenser and higher than English "short i" (/ɪ/), and that's sometimes realized in English as /i/—in fact, Google Books gives us an 1876 instance of a spelling with ‹y› which represents this:

    “… they had found us, me an’ Arturo, lyin’ still in the rode, me holdin’ the hackymore, which wur broken”

    But it's just as likely for this very-low-stress vowel to be completely reduced to the schwa, /ə/, which is what the spelling ‹a› represents. Even with an ‹i› spelling we tend to reduce this way: inhabitants of Mexico, Missouri, for instance, say /'mɛksəkou/.

  • The only piece left is ‹a›→‹ore›. Open /a/ and /æ/ do not occur word-finally in English, and even /ɑ/ is rare except in foreign-language names. In Americanizations it usually becomes /ɔː/, with or without a corresponding change to the spelling; consider "Choctaw", "Kennesaw", "Waukesha", "Wichita". And in fact there is at least one instance of a spelling with ‹aw›:

    Hackamaw is a sort of halter, or headstall, made of the end of a lariat rope and put on in such a manner that it holds the head of the mustang firmly without the danger of choking the animal. —Dennis Collins, The Indians' Last Fight, n.d.; largely memories and accounts of the 1870s, but published in 1913 or later.

    I can offer no example of /ɔː/→/or/. Ilmari Karonen's explanation, that ‹ore› is a conventional spelling for /ɔː/ in non-rhotic dialects, suggests one possible influence; another is that /or/ is a very common terminator in English in words with this stress pattern. It's also worth considering that English does have a handful of naturalized names and words ending in /əmor/—paramour, sycamore, Baltimore, McLemore—and of course the Hickamore-Hackamore riddle, which seems to have been first published by Halliwell-Phillipps in the 1840s.

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  • Good, but let me clarify that Spanish has only a single stress in any word (except for compound words with preserved morphemes, which includes the -mente adverbs) and no secondary stress nor vowel reduction in unstressed syllables. So whether you want to call that 3-2-2 or 3-1-1 I don't know, but it's not 3-1-2. – tchrist Jun 19 '16 at 12:16
  • @tchrist Hmm ... I know no Spanish at all; I was relying on Wikipedia for phonology and (1) in this paper for prosody. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 19 '16 at 12:48
  • @tchrist: On the other hand, I believe changing 3-1-1 stress to 3-1-2 stress is quite common in American English. Consider Los Alamos and Ecuador. – Peter Shor Jun 19 '16 at 13:24

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