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To Buffalo: To Win by Trick or Threat

Expressions that describe winning by any means. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

Today we tell about two words that are close in meaning. One is to buffalo. The other is to bulldoze. Both deal with winning by tricking or frightening someone.

Long before the first Europeans arrived in the New World, a strange looking animal lived on the rich grasses of the western plains. He looked like some kind of water buffalo. But he had a big hump on his back like a camel. And he had hair like a lion. He later was called a bison.

In eighteen fifty, estimates say twenty million buffalo lived on the open plains areas of the west. They were powerful creatures that ran with great speed. American Indians hunted them for food and clothing. As white settlers moved west, they began to hunt the animal for skins to sell in eastern markets.

The American buffalo could run at the speed of almost seventy-five kilometers an hour. It was not easy to get close enough to them to shoot.

Sometimes the hunters were completely unsuccessful in killing any of the animals. They were "buffaloed" by these powerful, speedy creatures who were so hard to control. The expression "to buffalo" soon became part of the speech of the American west. It meant to make someone helpless, to trick them. In the early nineteen hundreds, a story about attacks on white settlers moving into Indian territory explained, "The Sioux had the wagon-train surrounded and the soldiers buffaloed."

The meaning is almost the same today. When someone has you buffaloed, he has tricked or fooled you.

The expression "to bulldoze" also means to make someone helpless, usually by using power or threatening violence. The expression was first used in the southern part of the United States to describe the use of force to win an election. A bulldozer was a person who was not liked, someone who threatened other people.

The term today most often is used to describe a powerful machine designed to clear away trees and other big objects. A bulldozer moves slowly but powerfully across the land. Nothing much can stop it.

Americans still use the expression "to bulldoze" but mainly in political situations. It is used sometimes to describe a political move that leads to an unexpected win. For example, a newspaper might comment that a bill that was not popular passed in Congress because the supporters bulldozed the opposition. The force of the supporters' arguments, or perhaps some legislative tricks, buffaloed the opponents.



You have been listening to the VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES. I'm Warren Scheer.