Buffalo Everything

Buffalo wings, buffalo chips, buffalo sauce–everything can be buffalo. But, how did this word come to mean from a specific animal to a spicy sauce complementing chicken to meaning an enthusiast? Well, first buffalo didn’t mean an animal, etymologically speaking.

The ancient Greeks had a word for an African antelope, boubalos.  Then boubalos was changed to buffalo and covered various kinds of domesticated oxen. When the Europeans came to North America, they had called the bison buffalo, assuming it was a species of an ox. Bison and buffalo aren’t the same species, biologically; but the name stuck.

The Europeans called anything that resembled an ox a buffalo and eventually shortened it to buff. When buffalo were killed, they were skinned and the leather became known as buff, or buffe leather. This type of leather was very effective at polishing, which is why we still buff things until they shine. When something has been buffed it looks good, which is why people who spend an abnormally long time in the gym are buff.

An oddity of buff leather is that it is pale and looks like human skin. The reason why naked people are referred to as being in the buff. People really did wear buff leather as it was a strong material. In the nineteenth century,  New York firefighters uniforms were made from buff leather and the firefighters were called buffs. New York fighters were good at extinguishing fires and people from the city would come to watch them, especially schoolboys, which became known as buffs. In 1903, the New York Sun said:

The buffs are men and boys whose love of fire, fire-fighting and firemen is a predominant characteristic.

This is why we have film buffs, book buffs, word buffs, and other types of buffs. Buffalo still has another meaning in American slang, to bully. And, a little fun story (that really happened) concerning this. A linguist at the University of Buffalo (in New York) wrote a sentence concerning about buffalo’s being bullied in Buffalo:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

It’s easier to understand if you compare it to this version:

Buffalo bison [whom] Buffalo bison bully [then] bully Buffalo bison.

And yes, it’s the longest grammatically correct sentence in the English language  that uses only one word.

As to the buffalo sauce? Well, it originally started in Buffalo, New York (yet again!) in 1964 by Teressa Bellissimo, proprietor of Anchor Bar, who needed to make a bar dish. She combined ingredients and thus the buffalo wings came to be. As to why it was named buffalo, who knows? Merely coincidence, perhaps. Besides, buffalo is shortened to buff, meaning an aficionado. Buffalo wings!