noun pl. buffalo,
a. Any of several large African and Asian ruminant mammals of the family Bovidae, such as the water buffalo and the African buffalo.
b. The North American bison.
c. The flesh of the North American bison, used as food.
- Any of several North American suckers of the genus Ictiobus, having a dark body and an arched back. Also called buffalo fish .
transitive verbbuf·fa·loed, buf·fa·lo·ing, buf·fa·loes
- To intimidate or frighten, as by a display of authority: “The board couldn't buffalo the federal courts as it had the Comptroller” ( American Banker )
- To confuse or deceive: “Too often … job seekers have buffaloed lenders as to their competency and training” ( H. Jane Lehman )
Origin of buffalo
Italian bufalo or
Spanish búfalo from
Late Latin būfalus from
Latin būbalus antelope, buffalo from
Greek boubalos antelope perhaps from bous cow
; see gwou-
in Indo-European roots.Word History:
When most Americans hear the word buffalo,
they probably think of the American bison. In fact, buffalo
originally referred to the water buffalo (an animal that was introduced to western Europe from Asia in late antiquity) and other large bovid animals of Eurasia and Africa. The history of buffalo
begins with the Greek word boubalos,
“antelope.” The Romans borrowed this word as būbalus,
“antelope.” In his work on natural history, however, the Roman author Pliny the Elder notes that the common people used būbalus
to refer to the urus, the huge wild ox (now extinct) that once roamed northern Europe, and Pliny considered this to be a mistake. Eventually the Latin word, in its Late Latin form būfalus,
became the name for the water buffalo when it was introduced to Europe. Būfalus
developed into buffalo
in Italian and búfalo
in Portuguese and Spanish, and then English borrowed buffalo,
with the sense “any of various species of large bovine animals,” from one or more of these languages. How did the word buffalo
come to be the popular name for the American bison? When the English first began to visit and settle in North America, it is likely that most of them had never seen the European bison, or wisent, the closest relative of the American bison. The wisent had mostly vanished from western Europe in the Middle Ages, the victim of hunting and deforestation. The English were probably much more familiar with domestic water buffalo, and they may even have heard of the urus, and so when they encountered the American bison, many of them called it by the name of the largest bovine animal they had known before, the buffalo. Already in 1625, English writers were using buffalo
to describe the bison of America.