Friday 5 March 2021

Vaccines and Buckaroo


For some reason unknown to me vaccines have been much in the news of late. It's all the fault of a fellow called Edward Jenner (1749-1823) who had the eccentric idea of preventing smallpox in humans by injecting them with cows, or possibly cowpox. 

Cowpox is a demure disease, but, once you had got used to it, you could fight off smallpox, which was a dastardly disease.

The Latin for cow was vacca, and the Latin name of cowpox is variolae vaccinae. So Dr Jenner called his new invention vaccination, which therefore means something like cowification.

The Spanish had a much better idea. Instead of injecting diseased cows into people, they raised cattle, slaughtered them, and then ate them. This is less medically interesting, but much more delicious. 

The Spanish were so keen on cow-herding that they discovered a new continent called America and filled it with cows. Because Spanish is derived from Latin, the Spanish word for cow was vaca, and the Spanish word for the men who herded cows was vaquero.

However, the Spanish can't tell the difference between the letter V and the letter B. So when the North Americans imported the word for their own English-speaking cowboys, they called them buckayros, and later buckaroos

A buckaroo is just a Latinate cowboy. He has nothing to do with a bucking bronco, and everything to do with a vacca.

In 1989 Hasbro produced a children's game called Buckaroo! This involves putting things on a plastic mule, but, etymologically, it should really be a cow. 

This is a film about distressed Wykehamists.

P.S. The Spanish word vaqueros also means jeans, as that is what they wore.


  1. I think you will find that Latin "vacca" is a cow. A bull, of course, is "taurus".

    "Vaccus" sounds like some modern transsexual ungulate.

  2. Welcome back, Mr. Forsyth.

  3. Welcome back, Mr. Forsyth.