What is the origin of the word “buck” for dollar?

It is always difficult to trace the etymology of the words we use every day, and the same can be said in tracing words in any language. Some of the words that are being used today would have fascinating stories to tell, especially their origins, as others might seem to have originated out of nothing. But of course, all the words in all languages must have come from something. One person may have used a word so frequently that it became a common term to describe an object or an action.

If you are familiar with the way of life of Americans, you would know about the U.S. dollar being commonly referred to as “buck.” Although that word is thrown around casually, a few people seem to be concerned about its origin since it is so far away from the word “dollar” in terms of pronunciation and meaning. Surprisingly, there had been multiple attempts to ascribe the origin of the term to the racist history of the United States, wherein they claim that the term was used to indicate young male slaves, although there is no plausible evidence of the word being used for such a derogatory purpose.

The first United States dollar was minted in 1792, following the Coinage Act that was passed into law. However, the available evidence and records trace the origin of using the word “bucks” for denoting the money that was used for buying goods or transactions before the 18th century. During those times, the skin of a deer, commonly called as buckskin, was the primary medium of economic transactions in the country, especially in the frontier areas. The term was also used during the years of revolution, wherein money was hard to obtain. Thus, buckskin became a valuable material among people, and it was used to represent the value of most items or objects in their possession. Buckskin was then exchanged or traded for other commodities, and to make the transaction simpler, the people shortened the buckskin to “buck” to denote the skin of the deer. Another interesting fact about the buckskin is that it is featured prominently in the transactions with the Indians or the Native Americans as well. According to several historical texts, it is said that the skins of other animals were also utilized for money, but deerskin remained the most valuable.

One of the earliest references of the usage of bucks to have the same meaning as money can be found in a journal written by Conrad Wieser during his travels through a colony that will be later known as present-day Ohio. In his writings, he mentioned that someone was robbed of the value of 300 bucks in the area. Wieser is a Dutch who served as a diplomat and interpreter for the Native Americans and his colony in Pennsylvania. There is another reference recovered from the same year, which mentioned trading a cask of whiskey to Native Americas for the price of 5 bucks. Both of these references were written during the early 18th century.

It is debatable whether the word “buck” is supposed to indicate single deerskin. Various studies have emerged concerning the use of the terms, and most of these researches explained that the value of the buck was according to the quality of the skin. In the case of low-quality buckskins, it took a few to form one buck, which means that you would need a deerskin of higher quality in order for it to denote more than 100 bucks in transactions.

Today, the quality of the materials used for dollars doesn’t seem to matter, as all the money the United States is made of the same materials, and it is only in the numbers shown on the dollar note itself can one see its value. On the other hand, deerskin remained a valuable material in the clothing industry even though it is not used as money anymore. Deerskin nowadays is utilized to make soft leather that can be sewed to create indoor shoes or work gloves.

After the introduction of the modern state currency, the use of buckskin as a medium of monetary exchange gradually ceased to exist. However, the word “buck” stayed in popular culture, so did its association with money.