Our word buccaneer came from a time when pirates were at the height of their activity, the 1680s, and we get it from French boucanier, which in its later days also meant "pirate". However, earlier on, it meant "to smoke fish" and sometimes other kinds of meat, because lawless sailors in the Caribbean were heavily associated with the smoking of meat (this was sometimes spelled boucaner). Etymologists trace this to another French word, boucan, which was their word for the type of grill that this smoking would be done on. Surprisingly, further derivation of this word takes us all the way back to the Brazilian Tupi language, which was quite common for trading in the area (some even would go as far to say it was the lingua franca of the region). Here it was mukan, with the same definition. Be wary, though: another theory places the correct etymology with Arawak buccan, which would mean "a special tool for roasting manatees". Despite the uncertainty, though, buccaneer certainly is interesting overall!
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard College in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd