The Grammarphobia Blog

Is it “butt naked” or “buck naked”?

Q: Why do so many people mistakenly say “butt naked” when it should be “buck naked”? This common mistake really annoys me.

A: You’ll be surprised to learn that the language world has debated the issue quite a bit. Some language types believe that “butt naked” is a mispronunciation of an earlier “buck naked.” Others think that “buck naked” is a euphemism for an earlier “butt naked.”

So which came first? The “butt” or the “buck”? We may never know for sure, but I think the available evidence indicates that “buck naked” came first and “butt naked” was the result of phonic confusion.

The first published reference to “buck naked” in the Dictionary of American Regional English is from 1928, while the first citation for “butt naked” comes from a 1966-70 DARE survey.

On the other hand, both DARE and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language speculate that “buck naked” may be an alteration of “butt naked,” indicating that “butt” may have come first.

Meanwhile, why a “buck”? Michael Quinion, in an entry for the word “buff” on his website World Wide Words, suggests that “buck” may refer to “buckskin,” which is supposedly the color of naked skin exposed to the sun.

At this point, I’ll butt out.