July 29, 2013

Case File #013.07.29: RODEO

During the nineteenth century, a large number of Latin Americans immigrated to the Southwestern United States and found employment as cowboys and ranch hands, and it is these folks who get the credit for introducing rodeo to the English language. Derived from the Spanish verb rodear, meaning “to surround,” the Spanish noun rodeo means “detour” or “encirclement,” though it is also sometimes used in the figurative senses of “an evasive maneuver” and “circumlocution.” When English-speaking American cowboys first borrowed the word in the 1830s, they used it to mean “a cattle roundup,” and soon after, they also used it as a name for the enclosure into which cattle are herded at the end of a roundup. It wasn't until the early twentieth century, however, that English speakers used rodeo to mean “a public contest or exhibition of cowboy skills such as calf roping, bronco busting, and bull riding,” and the verb sense of “to observe or participate in a rodeo exhibition” didn't show up until the 1950s. Interestingly, the English usage has had some reciprocal influence on the Latin American, and Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking denizens of South America now sometimes use rodeo in reference to certain cattle-ranching activities.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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