Grammar

Buck Naked or Butt Naked? Which Means Nude to You?

There’s an interesting debate over whether an idiom for nudity is correctly written as buck naked or butt naked. Some think either is fine.

Is buck naked or butt naked the proper term to use when someone isn’t wearing a strip of clothing?

One of them is certainly more established. But as our language evolves, it turns out that both are being used. And since both convey essentially the same idea, both are understood.

Is it officially buck naked or butt naked?

If you think about it, butt naked does make sense. If you’re naked, you’re showing your butt. (Among other things.)

But of the two, butt naked is certainly the younger of the two. Merriam-Webster says this variation was first spotted in the 1960s but didn’t begin to gain traction until the 1970s.

It may be what’s known as an eggcorn, a word or phrase that results when someone mishears or confuses another word or phrase. In other words, butt naked might have been the result of someone not clearly hearing buck naked. For whatever reason, though, it seems that the misheard version has become somewhat commonplace these days.

Buck naked, on the other hand, is the older of the two. It was noted as early as 1919, some 40 years before the “younger” alternate.

Merriam-Webster gives a few explanations for buck instead of butt. It’s possible, according to one theory, that buck naked formed as a minced oath, a word or phrase that substitutes a similar but different word in place of one that might otherwise be offensive. The buck could have been a euphemism for butt.

Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to nail down one correct answer when there are two options like this.

But in this case, there’s something of a disappointment for those of us who want that simple, definitive answer. The fact is that either choice is acceptable to a point, although the older version, with buck, is certainly more well known. It’s possible that if you use the butt version, you might get strange looks from people who assume you’ve misspoken.

Buck naked, then, is the better choice, but not necessarily the only valid one.

1 Comment

  1. I remember discovering, when I was in high school, that it was “all intents and purposes,” and not what I had been saying – “all intensive purposes.” I received a history paper back with the question, in red, “Did you mean all intents and purposes?.” No, I really was trying to convey that the purpose was intensive! In fact, word play and puns became an intensive purpose for me that very moment, and I use them with intent and purpose to this day.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.