“Oh, you’re here to install?” my coworker Amy said to our sysadmin today. “Great! I’m just gonna vamoose.”

Vamoose! Get out! It’s been like forever since I’ve heard that word. It’s one of those colloquial western-Americanisms you hear in the same places as gulch. You get a sense of the typical context from a common phrase that uses it: vamoose the ranch. Which has the same general sense as the vulgar French fous le camp and echoes of the same sounds. But you don’t picture the same people saying them.

What a sound vamoose has, too. Like someone disappeared lickety-split and left a dust of bits of other words: vanish, scram, move it, cut loose. It hits the scene with the va-va-voom of a sports car and in the next move disappears down the tracks like a caboose. And yet it has the obtrusiveness of a moose. (It doesn’t have the antlers, though. You’d have to stick the m on top of the v.)

You may already know where this word comes from. In the earlier half of the 1800s, English-speaking cowboys often saw their Spanish-speaking counterparts in the American southwest, and they picked up a few words from them, like canyon, rodeo, and lasso. Our word vamoose comes from Spanish vamos, ‘let’s go’. It has something else in common with lasso: an unstressed Spanish /o/ sound has been converted to a stressed /u/ pronunciation (the spelling of lasso doesn’t reflect that change, though). There’s something about that “oo.” When do you vamoose? Maybe when you’re a dude in cahoots with some galoot who looted lots of moola and you have to put your boots on the route or they’ll shoot you.

It’s a versatile word, vamoose; it can get around. It serves as a verb both transitive – “He vamoosed the jail” – and, more commonly, intransitive – “Are you going to vamoose? I think we should vamoose.” One way you can’t use it is to mean the first-person plural imperative ‘let’s go’, though: If you say “Vamoose!” the hearer will understand ‘scram!’ as in a second-person imperative.

Go figure. When we got it out of Spanish, it got out of the Spanish sense as it got out of the Spanish form. Well, we got out of it what we wanted to get out of it, and then we got out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s