Buzo or buceador? 6 years asking myself the same question

Etymology PlungeDabble

Unlike in English, where SCUBA diver takes its name from a relatively modern acronym and a simple agent noun, its Spanish counterpart has a whole different story behind it. Let’s take a brief look at it.

Men have been diving underwater for ages, maybe as long as they have been using oxen for plowing the fields. But why making that comparison, you may ask. Well, it appears that the Spanish terms for diver stem from an element used in harnessing these draft animals, which in turn was named after the word for “ox”. So let’s see.

The ox herder, boyero gets its denomination derived from the animal itself, the buey. And, at least centuries ago, boyeros used some sort of horn that was blown to call and control the oxen. This is what the horn looked like, more or less:

If you search for images of divers from 15th century or so, you get to some creepy drawings like the one below:

Diver from 15th Century

Apparently, both the terms buzo and buceador come from the relation that was made between that kind of hose that divers used back then to get air from the surface and the horn used to call on the oxen, the cuerno de boyero. Weird, huh?

Buzo, from buzio (actually Portuguese), from Latin bucina, from Greek bous, which means, yeah, you guessed it: buey (ox). And buceador can be traced back pretty much the same way.

And how much did that etymological journey helped me decide which of the two is the best Spanish translation for SCUBA diver? Not much, to be honest.

The issue here to me, and to the rest of the Spanish team, always seems to be that they are both widely used and they both sound generally OK. Both are accepted by the Real Academia Española (our official dictionary, sort of speak) and they are generally used interchangeably throughout Latin America and Spain (while the Spanish also tend to use the term “submarinista” as well, literal for “person for under the sea”, and ergo somewhat restrictive to divers in the ocean).

The biggest certifications agencies, like PADI, SSI and SDI concur in using buceador as the main term to refer to divers.

However, a quick Google search of buzo throws around 22 million hits, while buceador has only 765,000 hits. Could that be because buzo also means hoodie in some Spanish-speaking countries? Maybe. Also, upon searching images of buza (female diver) and buceadora (ditto), the former displays pictures of beautiful towns named Buza in Iran, Poland and Romania, no women divers in sight. Buceadora, on the other hand, shows plenty of women diving underwater.

So what do you think? Should we stick to one or is it possible to favor buzo sometimes —maybe when referring to military divers or when there is a character restriction— and buceador in some other cases?

Blow your cuerno and let me know your thoughts.

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