49

The -eroo suffix works as an intensifier of sorts, though it also seems to have other, less well-defined properties.

The online OED has only this to say about it:

-eroo, suffix
  factitious slang suffix as in boozeroo n., brusheroo (brush n.2 8b), flopperoo n. U.S. formations
  in -eroo, -aroo (e.g. buckaroo n.) are discussed in Amer. Speech (1942) XVII. 10f,
  and in T. Pyles Words & Ways Amer. Eng. (1952) 199.

1964 Guardian 8 July 7/6 Those jerkeroos feel embarrassed.

Etymonline's gloss is similarly disappointing:

switch (n.)
The meaning "a change from one to another, a reversal, an exchange, a substitution" is first recorded 1920; extended form switcheroo is by 1933. (Emphasis my own.)

I would like to know where this suffix comes from and, if possible, why there isn't a better etymology. Any ideas?

  • 4
    The following may help : -eroo: 1) of unclear orig.; perhaps extracted from buckaroo, though this word appears to have been conformed to a preexisting suffix (or word), the stress and final tense vowel being otherwise unaccounted for. 2) used to form nouns (also -aroo or -roo or -oo) Emphatic, humorous, or affectionate form of what is indicated : babyroo/ floperoo/ jivaroo/ screameroo/ sockeroo (1930s+) dictionary.com/browse/-eroo – user067531 Nov 17 '17 at 15:17
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    It just kind of hopped in. – Hot Licks Nov 17 '17 at 18:36
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    No idea - does it share any etymology with Kangaroo ? – Criggie Nov 17 '17 at 19:05
  • 2
  • I wonder whether there is any connection between -eroo and Winnie-the-Pooh's "smackerel". (I'm also wondering about "Twenty-three-skidoo".) – mweiss Nov 20 '17 at 3:54
37

Michael Quinion, Ologies and Isms: Word Beginnings and endings (2002) has this entry for the suffix -eroo:

-eroo Also -aroo, -aroonie, and -eroonie. An informal and often humorous intensifier of nouns {A fanciful formation of uncertain origin}

This ending is most common in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. It appeared in the U.S. in the 1930s, but its origin is not known. It may be that it was influenced by the older buckaroo, a cowboy, which derives from Spanish vaquero; its acceptance in Australia and New Zealand may have been helped by the model of kangaroo, wallaroo, and other words. It sometimes implies something sizeable, overwhelming, remarkable, or unexpected.

Among the words that Quinion cites as examples of -eroo/-aroo/-aroonie constructions are boozeroo, jackaroo, flopperoo, smackeroo, and smackeroonie.

A Google Books search for switcheroo finds it in two different publications from 1933. From Joel Sayre, Hizzoner the Mayor: A Novel (1933) [combined snippets]:

"Hello, sweetheart. What do you think of the way things went? All my condolences."

"Thanks. We didn't do as well as I'd hoped, but it's merely a matter of education, and education takes time. I'm glad that drunken windbag, Holtsapple, is out, anyway."

"Say, what the hell kind of a switcheroo did they pull on him up there, for God's sake?"

"I don't know, but the only votes cast on the whole island were by the Spanish and the Portuguese and they voted for Satchells. And speaking of Satchells, I certainly hope he's going to settle down now and attend to business."

"Oh he will, he will. Harrie'll make us a good mayor. I hope. He'll photograph better than Holtsapple, anyway. Well, it had to come some time. I guess this was still some of that last year's Hoover ground swell, switcheroo or no switcheroo."

And from H.T. Webster, "They Don't Speak Our Language," in The Forum and Century (December 1933) [combined snippets]:

I can cheer, too, for the Hollywood gag men in conference on a comedy which has been revealed as too subtle, when they determine they must dumb it down. That phrase saves time and wearying gestures. And "switcheroo" has value in the state department as well as in the mouth of gag men.

"We can have him drunk and eating all the cherries out of the cocktails," proposes one gag man.

"No," objects another. "Lloyd did that."

"Oke," says the chief gag man. "We'll pull a switcheroo. We'll use olives instead."

Which may be why it is my private opinion that the quick passing of technocracy as an idea for conducting human affairs as well as a publicity device was due largely to its esoteric vocabulary. In other words, it laid an erg. And I doubt if well ever get far with currency stabilization or other international economic adjustments until economists begin abandoning the argot of celestial mathematicians.

David Bordwell, Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling, which cites Webster's article, asserts that switcheroo specifically meant "a new and different gag based on an old one," but I am doubtful about that claim, and I haven't been able to find the source of the definition that Bordwell puts in quotes.

Incidentally, John Algeo, Fifty Years Among the New Words: A Dictionary of Neologisms 1941-1991 indicates that the passage from Webster's article quoted above is the earliest confirmed instance of "dumb it down."

However, switcheroo may not be the oldest sibling in of the -eroo family. John Ayto, 20th Century Words (2002) states that flopperoo may merit that distinction:

flopperoo n (1931) a flop, failure. US colloquial. The first recorded coinage based on the fanciful suffix -eroo. This was probably an arbitrary alteration (based on words like buckaroo and kangaroo) of the equally meaningless -erino, which had been popular in the first decade of the century. Its use was popularized by the influential US newspaper columnist Walter Winchell, and it survived to the end of the century (joined in the 1960s by the even more elaborate -eroonie)

1931 American Speech: Walter Winchell loves to ... [see] terpsichorines ... in revusicals which might even turn out floperoos.

The article in American Speech that Ayto cites is Harold Wentworth, "The Neo-pseudo-suffix '-eroo'," American Speech (February 1942). It begins with this paragraph:

In certain circles—notably radio, sports, advertising, and motion pictures—one often does not pay the check, take a dive, tell a joke, or listen to swing music. Instead, he pays the checkeroo, takes a diveroo, tells a jokeroo, and listens to swingeroo. Do such terms as these merely end with meaningless extra syllables? Sometimes they do, but not always. There is a perceptible semantic variation between the new forms with tails and the old acaudate ones. That is, it may not be quite so jarring to the playwright's sensibilities to read that his work is a flopperoo as to read that it is—tersely, bluntly, rudely—a flop. And the hapless sapperoo or bummaroo seems somehow less so than he used to be before the suffixion.

In addition to covering flopperoo and switcheroo, Wentworth's article has entries for antseroo (1941), bingeroo (1939), bounceroo (1941), brusheroo (1941), bummaroo (1940), driperoo (1940), drooperoo (1941), finkeroo (1941), foosheroo (1941), gaggeroo (1940), gazaroo (circa 1921, from Newfoundland), gauchoroo/gaucheroo (1941), gozaroo (undated), gutseroo (1940) hameroo (1941), jiggeroo (1927[?]), jitteroo (1941), kisseroo (1940), kyseroo (1940), pokeroo (1940), phraseroo (1941), sapperoo (1941), scooteroo (1941), screameroo (1940), slickaroo (1941), smackeroo (1940), snaperoo (1941), snoozemarooed (1940), socceroo (1941), sockeroo (1940), spoteroo (1941), stinkeroo (1939), stufferoo (1941), successeroo (1940), swingaroo (1939), vickeroo (1941), wackaroo (1941), whackeroo (1940), and ziparoo (1941). There are probably additional -eroo entries that I couldn't see in my piecemeal effort to assemble Wentworth's article.

Wentworth explains the descriptive term he uses for the -eroo suffix as follows:

In the title I have called -eroo a 'neo-pseudo-suffix'—'neo' because eighty-one of its uses recorded below occurred in the last two years, since August, 1939, and none before 1931 except random distant relatives (jiggeroo, gazeroo); and 'pseudo' because of its deceptive resemblance to bona-fide suffixes like -ness, -er, and -(o)logy. The suffixial element in question is multiform and unpredictable, largely because its almost exclusive use is now in that unpredictable lawless appendage to standard English—slang.

I haven't been able to find a full readable copy of Wentworth's article, but I'm sure that it's well worth reading.


Further notes on show-business use of 'flop[p]eroo'

Charles Samuels, "Three Unique Literary Personalities Have Influence on American Writing," in the San Bernardino [California] Sun (October 15, 1933) discusses three U.S. literary figures who had died earlier in 1933, within four days of one another: short-story writer and newspaperman Ring Lardner, book publisher Horace Liveright, and Variety founder and publisher Sime Silverman. Samuels describes Silverman's contribution to American popular culture as follows:

Silverman, founder and editor of Variety, the theatrical weekly magazine that is called by hoofers great and small "the bible of show business, was the first to go. He died in Los Angeles [on September 23, 1933] at 61, the idolized oracle of the entertainment profession.

When Sime started his paper in 1905 he threw away his dictionary and set up in type for the first time the vibrant, living language of backstage vaudeville and legit, the Midway, the burlesque wheel and the tent show, and later the esoteric chatter of Hollywood and the radio bazaars.

Hundreds of original expressions came from his typewriter and from those of his staff which he taught to write like him. These were incorporated in the talk of a thousand towns; became integral items in the American idiom.

Among these are: 'Floperoo lays an egg,' meaning a show has failed; 'palooka,' which also indicates a failure; 'grand,' a thousand dollars.

Don Wilmeth, The Language of American Popular Entertainment: A Glossary of Argot, Slang, and Terminology (1981) [combined snippets] suggests that Variety lifted some of its argot (including flopperoo) from show-biz slang:

Flopperoo or floperoo A slang term for a failure, applied to a person or thing, especially a spectacularly unsuccessful stage show or film. Typical of slang popularized by Variety."

Wilmeth's book, which is particularly strong in vaudeville-era nomenclature, doesn't list any other -eroo words, but it does have this interesting note on ballyhoo:

bally or ballyhoo: One of the most common terms in all of popular entertainment jargon. Used as part of pitchmen's slang in virtually all forms of outdoor and environmental entertainments, especially the medicine show, carnival and circus. A bally, ballyhoo, or sometimes bally act, is simply an attraction used to draw a crowd. ... It's origin is unclear. Ballantine in Wild Tiger suggests that it is an abbreviation of "Ballyhooly truth," an English music-hall tag from the early 1880s, which in turn possibly was derived from "whole bloody truth." H.L. Mencken in The American Language: Supplement II (p. 684) offers two conflicting theories. One notion is that it might have come from a sea term meaning a small West Indian craft or odd rig, apparently a loan from the Carib through the Spanish, although the connection here is not clear. The second theory is that in the 1840s and 1850s many traveling tent shows were conducted by roving Irishmen who spoke both Gaelic and English. Their job was to talk up the show and to pass the hat. The Gaelic word for collect is bailinghadh, pronounced ballyoo (dissyllable) by Muster speakers and bállyoo by Connacht speakers. At intervals in the show the cry of Bailinghadh anois (Collection now) would be heard.

If ballyhoo was indeed practically ubiquitous in fields of American entertainment from the middle of the nineteenth century onward, it might have influenced the emergence of the kindred sounding suffix -eroo as an attachment to other show-business slang words. I have found no support for this idea in any of the sources I checked, however.

Sime Silverman grew up and lived most of his life in New York. The weekly Variety was published in New Cork City, but Daily Variety, which Silverman launched earlier in 1933, was published in Hollywood. For geographical reasons, the influences on his vocabulary were far more likely to have been vaudeville, Broadway, and the lower elements of the city's entertainment scene than cowboy lingo from out West. But even if Sime Silverman deserves credit for popularizing the suffix -eroo, buckaroo may have influenced mainstream acceptance of the suffix.


A note on 'buckaroo'

As D Krueger notes in a comment below, instances of buckaroo appear in the Chronicling America database of U.S. newspapers from as early as 1881 (in Oregon) and 1882 (in Idaho). From "Crooked River News," in the Albany [Oregon] State Rights Democrat (June 24, 1881):

Rumor has it that, a certain young "buckaroo" will stop "batching" [that is, being a bachelor] and take unto himself a cook,—will most probably bring her from near the Dalles, and if "Doctor" dont soon put in appearance H— will get away with his Bear creek daisy.

And from "That Canvass," in the Ketchum [Idaho] Keystone (December 1, 1882), responding to an insinuation in the Ha[i]ley [Idaho] News Miner that the editors of the Keystone and other Wood River newspapers were "bucking like California cayuses" in opposition to a decision made by the county board of canvassers:

Now, we can assure our big, eight-column brother that we have no occasion to exercise our bucking proclivities, as no buckaroo has set foot in our stirrups.

Searches instances of buckaroo, buccaroo, and bucaroo in newspaper databases yield a flurry of matches from the period 1888–1892, with instances from the Western states of California (1888, 1889, 1892), Oregon (1890, 1891, 1892), Idaho (1887, 1889, 1891), Montana (1891), Nevada (1888)

One noteworthy instance explicitly connects buckarooing with vaquero. From "All Sorts" in The Dalles [Oregon] Daily Chronicle (December 4, 1891):

Oregon girls take the "cake" when it comes to "buckarooing." Last week a band of cattle and an emigrant wagon from Oregon, bound for—God only knows where, passed through Wheatland [Wyoming] with two good-looking web-footed girls driving cattle, riding straddle and sitting in th[e] saddle with as much ease and grace as the most accomplished vaquero.—[Denver, Colorado] Field and Farm.

"Webfoot," by the way, is a longstanding nickname for Oregonians, supposedly coined by Californians as a comment on how rainy and muddy western Oregon tends to be. The Pittsburgh [Pennsylvania] Dispatch, which reprinted this item in 1891, is the only Eastern newspaper I've been able to find that mentions the word buckaroo in any form before 1897. The first mention of buckaroo in a New York newspaper that an Elephind search produces is in the New York Sun (September 1, 1906), where it appears as a specimen of the outlandish speech patterns and vocabulary of a bunch of Nebraskans who were visiting New York City.


Conclusion

Although I am quite suspicious of David Bordwell's assertion that switcheroo originated with the specific meaning "a new and different gag based on an old one," it seems very likely that switcheroo (and flopperoo and many of the similarly suffixed neologisms of the 1939–1941 great waveroo) originated in show business or in the show business press. Whether they owe anything to buckaroo or (for that matter) to the odd Newfoundland outlier gazaroo is open to conjecture. Wentworth seems to take the buckaroo connection seriously; Michael Quinion concedes that buckaroo may have exerted an influence; and John Ayto argues that, even if -aroo was affected by buckaroo, it derives more directly from "the equally meaningless -erino" of the nineteen-aughts.

Buckaroo (or buccaroo, or bucaroo) was certainly in use in the American West early enough to have influenced the popular emergence of the suffix -eroo. It was slow to make its way eastward across the United States, however, and floperoo may already have been in use in Eastern show-biz circles by the 1910s, when buckaroo truly caught on in the U.S. East. A wildcard here is Ayto's assertion about the influence of the suffix -erino on -eroo. I have not been able to find any information on that suffix or its popularity in the decade after 1900.

  • 3
    @Clare: Buckaroo/buccaroo/bucaroo appears multiple times in California newspapers duing the period 1888–1893. The earliest instance involves "Buckaroo Jim," a prisoner (later referred to as "the Indian," although his ethnic status was not previously mentioned in the story) who helped murder a sheriff and then escaped from the Grant County (Oregon) jail. The next is a brief mention of "a sheep buckaroo's hat" in a story about counting sheep. The next several instances involve "Buckaroo [or 'Buccaroo' or 'Bucaroo'] Bill," a notorious horse thief. ... – Sven Yargs Nov 18 '17 at 6:28
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    ... Then comes another "Buccaroo Jim," who "made himself conspicuous while the Salvation Army was conducting its usual street ceremonies by approaching Mrs. Taylor, wife of the Captain, and in his drunken condition making a beastly proposal to her." And the last in this group involves "a 'buccaroo' [who] at the time was buccarooing for his father." So there is fairly strong circumstantial evidence that buckaroo antedates floperoo, switcheroo, and the other show-business -eroos. The question is whether this is a case of "post hoc, ergo propter hoc"—and that I cannot tell. – Sven Yargs Nov 18 '17 at 6:31
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    Pam Peters "Australian English As a Regional Epicenter" (In World Englishes Problems, Properties, and Prospects, 2007) attributes the surge in the productivity of the -eroo ending in Australia to the World War II era when Marines took R&R in Australia. There's an interesting short list of -eroo examples--19th & 20th centuries. books.google.com/… – Xanne Nov 18 '17 at 8:38
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    @Clare A search at Chronicling America finds "buckaroo" in Oregon in 1881 and in Idaho in 1882. – D Krueger Nov 18 '17 at 10:49
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    @Robusto See also n. wanderoo 1681 (India), n. gillaroo 1733 (Ireland), adj. puckeroo 1844 (New Zealand), n. cockamaroo 1851 (England), n. munyeroo 1896 (Australia), n. twisteroo 1963 (United States). – tchrist Nov 18 '17 at 16:00
25

The suffix -eroo appears to be an analoguous post-formation derived, in the view of many, from the Spanish vaquero - a cowboy.

Julian Mason (in American Speech, Feb. 1960, pp. 51-55 - available through Duke University Press, albeit behind the pay-wall of JSTOR) cites a novel by one Owen Wister, Jimmyjohn Boss (1900):

"Yep. Cow-punchers. Vaqueros. Bucaroos in Oregon. Bastard Spanish word, you see, drifted up from Mexico."

Mason goes on to argue that the word "buckaroo" actually derives from a Gullah word, bukra, for "white man," an opinion probably not shared by the majority of language wonks. However, Mason concedes that

[vaquero/buckaroo] is "a possible souce for analogy in phonetic formation, or more likely as a possible source for analogy in meaning (particularly a post-formation shift in meaning.)

If true, as seems likely, this would characterize the -eroo suffix as a colorful American regional ornament, probably originating in the 19th C.

Here endeth my best answeroo...

  • 2
    I'll concede the NZ point readily. However, Kipling's lads in *Stalky & Co." seem more likely to follow Spanish rather than Maori in their coinages - c.f. the "pestiferoso stinkadore" - not to mention French ("je vais gloater" - "nous cattons") or, of course, Latin ("Foxibusculus")... – Rob_Ster Nov 17 '17 at 16:29
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    What I want to know is does Mason (or anyone else) give any linguistic evidence showing that buckaroo (=Amer Cowboy) is the origin, or the origin, of the rest of the -eroo/-aroo usages in American English? – AmE speaker Nov 17 '17 at 18:49
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    Mason is hunting a different kind of Snark, really. At the root of his thesis he's much more interested in establishing the link between the "buc" phoneme and a Gullah origin. The bit that I cited is convenient, and reasonably authoritative in its own right, I think - but it IS out of the larger context, I admit. – Rob_Ster Nov 17 '17 at 19:45
  • +1 Interesting and informative, Rob_Ster, if a tad unsatisfactory. I already know that -eroo is "a colorful American regional ornament"—now I want to know how and why the ornament came into the language. ^_^ – Robusto Nov 18 '17 at 14:42
  • @Robusto Exactamundo, kiddo! English has so few productive native affective affixes that we from time to time borrow one or another from neighboring languages that happen to have these in plenty, especially for producing humorous words like the crapola regularly spouted by minor-league jokerinos. – tchrist Nov 19 '17 at 17:40
10

This answer acknowledges the circa 1931-1949++ era 'Show Biz' uses of -eroo/-aroo (see the answer by Sven Yargs); but it demonstrates that many -eroo/-aroo endings are based on the English word kangaroo and that these predate this era, and that either kangaroo or buckaroo could have informed if not provided the -eroo in switcheroo and similar words. This is especially illustrated by an etymology adduced in the ad campaign for a 1919 blockbuster motion picture–which is straight from the 'Show Biz' world.

Kangaroo (Australian English, from aboriginal Guugu Yimidhirr)1, not to be confused with wallaroo, that larger variety of jumping beast found down under, is responsible for several -eroo/-aroo words:

  • jackaroo - jack + -aroo , 1845+ (Australian National Dictionary2), originally a newly arrived (to Australia) male from England, nowadays specifically a 'farm cadet'
  • jillaroo - the female equivalent, ~1943/45 (AND)
  • bossaroo - - boss + -aroo, a fictional 'boss kangaroo' used by 1887 by J.B. Stephens in his long poem Marsupial Bill, quoted in Dictionary of the Slang-English of Australia and of Some Mixed Languages and elsewhere.
  • squatteroo - famously used by Rudyard Kipling in his 1899 Complete Stalky & Co ("If King can make anything out of that, I'm a blue-eyed squatteroo.") Parrotted thereafter by others. In The Australian language by Sidney John Baker3 calls this a combination of of 'squatter' and 'jackaroo'; although one wonders why it couldn't be a combination of 'squatter' (a word in use in early Australian) and -(er)oo.
  • jamberoo - for which AND has an 1889 entry for as a 'drinking spree'
    Notice Green's dictionary of slang says it is an alliteration of jamboree.
  • boozeroo - 1908 - as cited in the Dictionary of New Zealand English ("Walker's explanation was that he was on the boozeroo, and didn't know what he was doing") is "indigenous" to New Zealand English (pre-dating the OED's citation you mention)

So that's five or six knock offs of kangaroo, three of them spelled -eroo.

Other -eroo/-aroo uses that do not seem either to be Australian/New Zealand English or a part of the 'Show Biz' uses highlighted by Sven Yargs include

  • jiggeroo - used as early as 1919 "by tramps as a warning of the approach of police." H.L. Mencken, The American Language, 1963.

Mencken also supplies

  • gazaroo - 1925, "meaning a fellow", reported in Newfoundland.

Yargs calls them "outliers" but the existence of these show that the Show Biz industry did not have a monopoly on the suffix. In fact, a point worth considering is whether the Show Biz industry ultimately derived its -eroo words (unconsciously or not) from kangaroo, a well-known word in American English (so well-known it used kangarooed for "given a false trial" (1909) and of course, kangaroo court.) It's clear kangaroo was productive in American English.

Advertising for the 1919 blockbuster movie Knickerbocker Buckaroo deconstructed buckaroo as consisting of buck (lively male) + -aroo of kangaroo. This usage is recorded in Green's Dictionary of Slang. Whether this etymology is scientific or merely popular, the point is that as early as 1919 the suffix -aroo from kangaroo was tacked onto a word in American English. It is not at all farfetched to believe kangaroo or buckaroo could have informed if not provided the suffix for switcheroo, floppero and the like.


More detail on

  • buckaroo/buckeroo (also bakhara, baquero, buckayro, buckhara, et al.)

From at least the mid-1800s the word has been said to be a borrowing of the Spanish word vaquero. Major problems with this have been pointed out by J. L. Dillard in both A History of American English (Longman Linguistics Library, published by Routledge) and Toward a Social History of American English, who also rejects Mason's hypothesis that it comes from "a Gullah word" (see Rob_Ster's answer).

Random House Dictionary (1987) "also demurs, saying that the stress pattern and final tense vowel are at odds with that explanation [that 'buckaroo' comes from 'vaquero']."; the arguments represent the same main points as Dillard.

Both Random House and Dillard argue that a preexisting suffix was used for the creation of of the English word buckaroo. (And one etymologist suggests the -aroo of kangaroo (citation will be provided).

No matter where buckaroo (~vaquero) ultimately originates, it's instructive to note that buckaroo was widely-known in the entertainment industry as early as May 1912 when the word appeared in the NYC-published and nationally circulated Motion Picture Story Magazine4 in a poem called "Cowboys Up-to-Date":

When the railroad came to Madras [Oregon], we wuz feelin' pretty blue,
Seemed as if a self-respectin', broncho-bustin' buckaroo
Didn't have no chance of livin' on the old range any more,
When, instead of coyotes howling, you could hear an engine roar...

The poem continues for ~40 lines.5

The use of buckaroo explodes in 1919 with the May release of Knickerbocker Buckaroo distributed nationally by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation through Paramount Pictures, starring Douglas Fairbanks. It was the first 20th century film (and probably ever) to include buckaroo in the title; its success started a string of motion pictures over the following two decades with buckaroo in the title.6 In 1919, there are at least 197 uses of buckaroo (probably most or all referring to the Fairbanks' film) in motion picture trade journals and fan magazines, including Sime Silverman's weekly Variety.

Crop of front cover ad for 'Knickerbocker Buckaroo' on 'Motion Picture News' April 26, 1919

There are 11 mentions of Knickerbocker Buckaroo in the five "June 1919" issues of Variety, the weekly that, as Sven Yargs informs us, was founded and edited by Silverman. The weekly gives the picture an excellent review in its May 30 (Vol LX no. 1) issue. See this note for an excerpt7. On the first four issues of Volume LX of Variety a motion-picture star graces the cover. Silverman was well aware of the motion picture industry and the use of buckaroo.

Knickerbocker Buckaroo was a blockbuster. One ad for the movie calls it

The Longest, the Most Pretentious, the Funniest, the Most Exciting Fairbanks Picture Ever Made.

The film included 'the most exciting stunts ever disclosed in motion pictures'; at one point Fairbanks' character is chased by 100 cowboys on horseback. The film's production cost ($264K) was over double that of any previous Fairbanks film, and it ran 6700 feet or seven reels, which meant about 70 to 84 minutes in the theater (apparently no copy of the movie exists today). It was sold to theater managers as 'worthy of extended runs and raised admission prices'. It 'broke all precedents' in that 'for the first time in the history of the Rialto and Rivoli theatres of New York City, the same production has been scheduled for a week's engagement at each house' and 'the choice was made by public demand'. The show ran for a week-long preview engagement. Major film magazines displayed two-page advertisements. Motion Picture News of April 26, 1919 carried a front cover ad (the posted image is cropped from this).8

It turns out that the fourth usage for buckaroo in Green's Dictionary of Slang (see the website for a snapshot) turns out to be a cryptic reference to this motion picture, adducing what I now know to be a press release for the film from January 1920:

  • buckaroo 1920 'a lively young man' (Green's Dictionary of Slang, citing "an advertisement" in the 1920 Appleton Daily Post (Wyoming) as displaying

"Buckaroo [buck-a-roo] [...] Meaning, when applied to the masculine gender of the human species, a lively young buck."

The ellided portion is now seen to be "From the Anglo-Saxon noun "buck" and the last two syllables of "jumping kangaroo."

This press release can be seen on page 21 in the May 20, 1919 Los Angeles Herald above a page-wide ad for the film's week-long run at downtown LA's Grauman's Million Dollar Theater, where admission was 15 to 25 cents before 5:30pm and 25 to 35 cents afterward.

enter image description here

One is not sure how seriously to take the etymology of buckaroo given in the press release (the 'kangaroo' part may refer no further than to Fairbanks' jumping on and off trains, horses and buildings); but its presence in Green's reminds us that the word has several meanings in English, not just 'buckaroo' the cowboy. Whether serious or not, the etymology does bring to mind those of Random House and of Dillard.

The main point is that this usage of buckaroo is the same type of usage ("informal and often humorous intensifier of nouns") as the so-called 'Show Biz' uses of -eroo/-aroo that it predates by a decade. Not lost on contemporary reviewer Edward Weitzel is the similarity in buckaroo and kangaroo when he juxtaposed the two words in a full-page review of the film ("Douglas Fairbanks' Top-Nothcher", The Moving Picture World, June 7, 1919, p 1475).

Another early motion picture title was


tchrist says to see also n. wanderoo 1681 (India), n. gillaroo 1733 (Ireland), adj. puckeroo 1844 (New Zealand), n. cockamaroo 1851 (England), n. munyeroo 1896 (Australia), n. twisteroo 1963 (United States).

All but twisteroo and cockamaroo come directly from indigenous words of the said countries. Puckaroo is still used in New Zealand English with its the meaning of To break, destroy, ruin; to kill (Cf. OED). Twisteroo, like poofteroos (1966), fuckaroo (1979), seems unremarkable; cockamaroo (a variety of (Russian) Bagatelle) is apparently unknown. Could it be another usage of -aroo from our favourite marsupial?

There's also the penchant of English speakers to play with sounds and endings. Witness smackarolas, smackeroonies, smack-eroonyos, smackolas (Green's), all post-1944 variants of smackeroo.

In 1996 Connie Elbe in Slang and Sociability points out that

Some sounds appear to give words a slangier flavor – most noticeably […] the sound of oo replacing a vowel in words such as cigaroot from cigarette and bazooms from bosom or added to the end of a word like smasheroo from smasher.

One could further explore the playful sound of oo in Winnie the Pooh (from exclamation pooh!), Scooby-Doo; the exclamation boo! in all its meanings.


Misc.

Kisseroos, a Show Biz era word (the 1933 play, The Great Magoo: A Love-sick Charade in Three Acts and Something Like Eight Scenes) is not explicitly mentioned in the answer by Sven Yargs; it might have been included in unseen portions of the Wentworth article. The same 1933 work uses floperoos.

Last, switcheroo is used in Cinema Progress (January 1939) in the sense the Yargs mentions ("a new and different gag based on an old one"), although I'm not saying it's the original meaning:

...modern screen successes are still made from plays which were hits in the past. The adaptation is made by disguising the play in some way. If it is a plot of a boy and a girl, change it to an old man and an old woman. Writers call this trick a "switcheroo." Like any other trade, writing has its tricks and formulas.


1 kangaroo "origin from Guugu Yimidhirr gangurru, ‘a large black or grey kangaroo’, probably specifically the male Macropus robustus," Australian Oxford Dictionary.

2 Australian National Dictionary is hereafter abbreviated AND.

3 Baker's work is fully titled The Australian language: an examination of the English language and English speech as used in Australia, from convict days to the present, with special reference to the growth of indigenous idiom and its use by Australian writers.

4 The magazine ran from 1911 to 1977. NB I'm using Wikipedia only as a reference, not as a source. Research for buckaroo in the motion-picture industry is my own.

5 Notice the northwest US, specifically Oregon, connection with the word. This jives with an entry for the word in the 1913 publication "Word-List From The Northwest" ("A broncho buster, cowpuncher, cowboy. See Green's Dictionary of Slang), as well as uses of the word in northwestern newspapers (see Yargs). One early source that Yargs does not mention is the 1891 Princeton, NJ publication of the Journal of the Princeton Scientific Expedition of 1889 ("The Bucaroo Club, consisting of the rodeo crowd, was also organized." The action takes place near Baker City, Oregon.

6 For now, see this disordered array at IMDB. I'll clean it up later.)

7 Part of it runs:

The star does all that the most exacting spectators can well expect of him. He leaps over tables, picks up a lost toothbrush from the roadbed as he is carried along at top speed by an express train, leaps on and off horses, up and down buildings, and everywhere provides a thrill for each alternate minute...

[...]For example, early in the picture Fairbanks pulls himself out of a Pullman window, climbs to the top of the car, runs the length of it, dodges onto an adjoining train, leaps for a building, climbs that, drops to the street, scales another house and dives into a well. All this is caught perfectly, as are the later horseback stunts...

8Back then, motion pictures almost invariably ran for one week only. Quotes, image and information gleaned from 1919 issues of Motion Picture News, Moving Picture World, and The Film Daily, Exhibitors Herald.

  • This is a very well-researched answer. Your note about kisseroo enabled me to find it and two additional -eroo terms in the Wentworth article, although the earliest occurrence of kisseroo known to Wentworth was 1940. Meanwhile, of possible interest on the buckaroo front: references in Australian newspapers to Buckaroo (or Buccaroo Mountain and to a town of the same name go back to 1860. ... – Sven Yargs Nov 19 '17 at 18:38
  • Even more intriguing is "The Reformed Bushranger (A True Tale)," published in installments over six weeks in 1874 article in a New South Wales newspaper, which describes a man who had been drawn to "the wild life of the Mexican Buccarro or American Desperado." This "true tale" most frequently refers to the character as "the Buccarro" but on one occasion as "the Bucarro" and on another as "the Bucaroo". ... – Sven Yargs Nov 19 '17 at 18:38
  • ... But the earliest transliteration of vaquero in an English language newspaper appears to be this one from “Matters in Nevada,” in the Sydney [New South Wales] Evening News (January 18, 1870): “On the right of the judge sat the widow of Roach, a tall, rather ungainly but modest-looking woman, evidently from Missouri, and said to be one of the best “buckaro’s” (wild cattle drivers) in the State, ...” – Sven Yargs Nov 19 '17 at 18:44
  • Modern linguists such as J. L. Dillard are aware of all these historical uses. (They're not "dummies.") I'll have to re-read Dillard and try to summarize his argumentation. It's a bit hard because I don't own either of his books. @SvenYargs – AmE speaker Nov 19 '17 at 19:22
  • 2
    Thanks, Clare, and +1. Great answer. I don't recall seeing you here before, but I'm glad you are. – Robusto Nov 19 '17 at 20:08

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