11 American Cowboy Words that Are Actually Spanish

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There’s nothing more American than cowboys, right? Well, think again. Many of the words and language associated with American cowboys comes from the Spanish language, and the cowboy tradition itself comes from Spain and Portugal. Let’s take a look at the origin of cowboys and the language that developed around them.

1. Vaqueros: The origin of cowboys

What we know as the American cowboy came from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico, which in turn, originated on the Iberian Peninsula, equally divided between the countries of Portugal and Spain.

The Spanish word vaquero andthe Portuguese word vaqueirorefer to the same thing the American English word cowboy refers to: “An animal herder who tends to cattle on horseback.”

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of the word cowboy occurred in 1623. Wikipedia says the first English usage appeared by 1725.

Both the Spanish and Portuguese word for “cow” is vaca.

Similarly, both the Spanish and Portuguese word quiero translate to English as “I want.”

Thus, the Spanish word vaquero and the Portuguese word vaqueiro literally translate to: “I want cow.”

2. Buckaroo

The Spanish pronunciation of vaquerois [baˈkeɾo], and it is believed that the English word buckaroo, is an anglicization of this pronunciation of vaquero.

Buckaroo is another word for cowboy or broncobuster and first came into usage in 1827.

Other “cowboy” words that come from Spanish:

These words are now every day terms for English speakers in America, but they began as Spanish. English-speaking cowboys adopted some of the words verbatim, while other words they modified and changed slightly.

3. Corral:

From the Spanish word corral which was derived from the Latin word currale, which was an enclosure for vehicles. In Spanish, corral means an “enclosure,” or “pen,” especially for livestock, or an enclosure made for wagons or the defense of an encampment.

4. Chaparral:

From the Spanish word chaparro referring to dwarf Evergreen Oak.

5. Chaps:

The Spanish word chaparreras, the name of the leg protectors worn for riding through chaparral.

6. Desperado:

From the Spanish word desesperado which means “desperate.”

7. Lariat:

From the Spanish word la reata which means a “strap”, “rein”, or “rope.”

8. Lasso:

From the Spanish word lazo which means a tie.

9. Ranch:

From the Spanish word rancho which means “a very small rural community.”

10. Rodeo:

From the Spanish word rodear which means “to go around.”

11. Stampede:

From the Spanish word estampida which has the same meaning.