1580s (earlier buffel, 1510s, from French), from Portuguese bufalo "water buffalo," from Medieval Latin bufalus, variant of Latin bubalus "wild ox," from Greek boubalos "buffalo," originally the name of a kind of African antelope, later used of a type of domesticated ox in southern Asia and the Mediterranean lands, a word of uncertain origin. It appears to contain bous "ox, cow" (from PIE root *gwou- "ox, bull, cow"), but this is perhaps a folk-etymology association.
Wrongly applied since 1630s to the American bison. The other Germanic words (Dutch buffel, German Büffel, Danish böffel, etc.) are from French; from Medieval Latin come Russian buivolu, Polish bujwoł, Bulgarian bivol, etc. Buffalo gnat is recorded from 1822. Buffalo chip "dung of the American bison," used for fuel on the U.S. plains, is from 1840.
city in western New York state, U.S., of disputed origin (there never were bison thereabouts), perhaps from the name of a native chief, or a corruption of French beau fleuve "beautiful river." Buffalo wings finger food so called because the recipe was invented in Buffalo (1964, at Frank & Teressa's Anchor Bar on Main Street).
kind of thick, soft leather, 1570s, buffe leather "leather made of buffalo hide," from French buffle "buffalo" (15c., via Italian, from Latin bufalus; see buffalo (n.)).
The color term "light brownish-yellow" (by 1788) comes from the hue of buff leather. Association of "hide" and "skin" led c. 1600 to the sense in in the buff "naked." Buff-colored uniforms of New York City volunteer firefighters since 1820s led to the meaning "enthusiast" (1903).
These men, together with a score or more of young boys who cherish ambitions to be firemen some day, make up the unofficial Fire Department of New York, and any one who imagines they are not a valuable branch of the service need only ask any firemen [sic] what he thinks of the Buffs to find out his mistake. The Buffs are men and boys whose love of fires, fire-fighting and firemen is a predominant characteristic, who simply cannot keep away from fires, no matter at what time of the day or night they occur, or how long they continue. [New York Sun, Feb. 4, 1903]
The animal formerly was widespread on the continent, including the British Isles, but in 20c. survived in the wild only on a forest reserve in Poland. Not to be confused with the aurochs. The name was applied 1690s to the North American species commonly mis-called a buffalo, which formerly ranged as far as Virginia and Georgia but by 1902 was deemed by Century Dictionary "apparently soon to become extinct as a wild animal." It has since recovered numbers on federal land. Related: Bisontine
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "ox, bull, cow," perhaps ultimately imitative of lowing; compare Sumerian gu, Chinese ngu, ngo "ox."
It forms all or part of: beef; Boeotian; Bosphorus; boustrophedon; bovine; bugle; Bucephalus; bucolic; buffalo; bugloss; bulimia; butane; butter; butyl; butyric; cow (n.); cowbell; cowboy; cowlick; cowslip; Euboea; Gurkha; hecatomb; kine.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit gaus, Greek bous, Latin bos, Old Irish bo, Latvian guovs, Armenian gaus, Old English cu, German Kuh, Old Norse kyr, Slovak hovado "cow, ox."
In Germanic and Celtic, of females only; in most other languages, of either gender. For "cow" Latin uses bos femina or vacca, a separate word of unknown origin. Other "cow" words sometimes are from roots meaning "horn, horned," such as Lithuanian karvė, Old Church Slavonic krava.