Printable Version
Pronunciation: væ-mus Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: (Regional slang) To leave, take off, bug out, hit the road, beat it, push off, skidoo, split, take a powder (from our Historical Dictionary of American Slang).

Notes: Today's Good Word is pure slang originating in the US Southwest, and was very popular in US Westerns (cowboy movies) of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. It was another word in the vocabulary of an old favorite of mine in the Westerns of the 40s, Gabby Hayes, whom we have already cited for his use of cahoots "plotting with". Since it was borrowed from Spanish and materially corrupted, it remains a lexical orphan with no other English words related to it.

In Play: If you want to talk like a movie cowboy, you might say something like this to your kids: "Let's vamoose, little buckaroos, and see if we can't rustle up some grub." (Translation: "Let's go, kids, and see if we can't find some food.") You wouldn't want to use this word at a job interview, but in a situation where a little Western flavor would not be out of place, you might say, "As soon as the line dancing was over, everyone vamoosed as though they were all in cahoots."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a serious mispronunciation of Spanish vamos "let's go". Spanish inherited the word from Latin vadamus "were we to go", a form of vadere "to go". It is the same verb used in Henryk Sienkiewicz's famous historical novel (1895) Quo Vadis? "Where are you going?", a love story set in Rome during the reign of Nero. The Proto-Indo-European base wadh- "to go" entered Old English as wadan "to go" and came down to us as wade. The meaning of this word is not far removed from the Latin derivation of vadum "a ford". (We should not vamoose before thanking Barbara Kelly for bringing this funny English borrowing from our neighbors to the south.)

Dr. Goodword,

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