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Apparently this question was asked over a decade ago but, the answers given do not address my specific curiosity. Of course, years ago, no one said "butt naked". "Butt" was not a common word - "bottom" and "behind" sufficed in polite company.

I was curious if the change from "buck naked" to "butt naked" was specifically engineered by the media due to racial sensitivities?

To be clear: I have read the hypothesis that the origin of "buck naked" (in AmE) is from naked Native American males - who were often called "bucks". However, in my experience, the change from "buck" to "butt" started in the 1980's.

Yes, the American lexicon had relaxed to include more words that were considered "impolite" - but the fact that male, African American slaves were also called "bucks" made me wonder if the shift was intentionally pushed in media to obliterate the earlier form of the phrase.

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    What time period are you referring to when "butt" was not a common word? According to etymonline the word (in the sense of "buttocks") is attested since 1860. And buttocks dates to c. 1300.
    – The Photon
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 6:44
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    The weight of the conclusion is not borne by the meager premise. 1. Claiming that nobody would have said "butt" naked sounds a lot like observer bias. 2. Never assume malice if ignorance is a sufficient explanation. 3. By the way: I'd compare Spanish puta, pula, Fr. putain, etc. pp. to land on German puterrot "red, emberassed", apparently from Puter, Pute "turkey", akin to pussy if from put-put. The corresponding sound change is virtually guaranteed by bucket ~ Ger. Pokal; pot ~ Fr. bouteille; apotheka ~ bodega, etc.—but it is certainly not trivial.
    – vectory
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 11:58
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    Does this answer your question? Which is correct, "buck naked" or "butt naked"? Also What is the origin of the phrase "buck naked"? Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 12:26
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    Sorry but,..what is your question in short????
    – Gio
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 15:09
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    Again, in what time frame are you talking about? Etymonline indicates the word was found in a written source (that's what they mean by "attested") as a synonym of buttocks around 1860. So there was no time in your or my life when it wasn't used with that meaning. Even if your family thought it too vulgar, that doesn't mean that it wasn't common in other social groups.
    – The Photon
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 15:57

2 Answers 2

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Butt naked is an alternative version of the same phrase buck naked. In some ways, it the more intuitive form: if you are completely naked, your butt is showing. You are, therefore, butt naked.

But English has never claimed to be an intuitive language, and buck naked is an older phrase, so it remains

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Green’s Dictionary of Slang suggests that buck in buck-naked can possibly derive, as an alteration, from butt:

buck-naked (adj.) (also buck, bucked)

[as naked as a SE buck; or ? corruption of butt n.1 (1a) + SE naked]

Butt; concerning the body.

1(a) (also butt-end, butties) the buttocks; the posterior; the anus.

  • 1928 [US] J. Peterkin Scarlet Sister Mary 33: You ain’ to stand up buck naked like dat.

Merrian-Webster suggests that buck-naked is older in usage than butt-naked but that the former could be considered offensive:

Some think that the original was butt, based on that word having been used to refer to a person’s buttocks since the 17th century, and that buck was a euphemism. Others feel that the buck referred to buckskin (the skin of a male deer, an animal often found in a nude state), or that it came from the word’s sense meaning “a male American Indian or African-American” (this sense of buck is considered offensive).

……..

Both buck naked and butt naked are of an informal variety of English; you are unlikely to have cause to use either in writing for school, or most types of work. Buck is the older of the twain, but, given the linguistic register in which such words are typically found you should really just choose the one that brings you the most joy.

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  • Trigger Warning: The sense considered offensive is obviously a thought terminating cliche because the exposition fails to consider how it ended up as a slur. Clearly it requires buck naked or something like it as the prototype from which buck could be formed. The homophone German Backen are (butt) cheecks, technically clamp brackets (eg. breaks) or diminutive face cheeks; which is probably related to back-side or bacon. Now for the trigger, I know only one cultural sphere where ham is officially taboo.
    – vectory
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 12:11
  • Where is Green from? Perhaps "buck naked" is an American twist on an older expression used elsewhere. However, if Green is an American, he's talking out of his butt. Buck was used here first.
    – Oldbag
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 23:38
  • @Oldbag / what don’t you publish a dictionary yourself? ELU might se it a a reference.
    – Gio
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 6:08

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