Bum
Posted: 27 November 2013 10:25 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Is bum in the sense buttocks used in the US? Of course I’ve heard the term used in other senses in American movies, I just can’t recall hearing it the buttocks sense. BTW I’d vaguely thought that the word might have originated as a contraction of bottom but not so. The origin is uncertain, perhaps onomatopoeic says OED, and adds that besides the phonetic difficulties of bottom > bum, bottom in this sense dates only from the 18th century whereas bum goes back to at least the 16th.

When OED says the 18th century it must mean the first half as the buttocks sense of bottom was firmly established by the early 1780s as witness one of the funniest passages in Boswell’s Life of Johnson. (What an astonishing work that is, it made such a huge impression on me as a young man, I must read it again. I still vividly remember Johnson’s absolute terror at the prospect of dying, a terror which afflicted him for many years before his death and which he managed to resolve a little while before he did die. I would read those passages with new eyes now.)

Here’s the passage I was talking about, it cracks me up every time I think of it.

Talking of a very respectable authour, he told us a curious circumstance in his life, which was, that he had married a printer’s devil. REYNOLDS. ‘A printer’s devil, Sir! Why, I thought a printer’s devil was a creature with a black face and in rags.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir. But I suppose, he had her face washed, and put clean clothes on her. (Then looking very serious, and very earnest.) And she did not disgrace him; the woman had a bottom of good sense.’ The word bottom thus introduced, was so ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect steadiness, while Miss Hannah More slyly hid her face behind a lady’s back who sat on the same settee with her. His pride could not bear that any expression of his should excite ridicule, when he did not intend it; he therefore resolved to assume and exercise despotick power, glanced sternly around, and called out in a strong tone, ‘Where’s the merriment?’ Then collecting himself, and looking aweful, to make us feel how he could impose restraint, and as it were searching his mind for a still more ludicrous word, he slowly pronounced, ‘I say the WOMAN was FUNDAMENTALLY sensible;’ as if he had said, hear this now, and laugh if you dare. We all sat composed as at a funeral.

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Posted: 27 November 2013 01:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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No, it’s not used much over here, except when someone is trying to affect a British sensibility.

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Posted: 27 November 2013 06:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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No native use of bum as derriere in my part of the US. Plenty of use decades ago of bum as something not right, e.g. “skid row bums” or “bum deal.”

What am I not understanding about the AHD etymology for “bum”? so here’s “bum”:

bum 1 (bŭm)
Share: bum

n.
1.  A tramp; a vagrant.

2.  A lazy or shiftless person, especially one who seeks to live solely by the support of others.

3.  An incompetent, insignificant, or obnoxious person: The batter called the pitcher a bum.

4.  One who spends a lot of time doing a particular recreational activity: a beach bum; a ski bum.

v.  bummed, bum·ming, bums

v.intr.
1.  To live by begging and scavenging from place to place. Often used with around.

2.  To pass time idly; loaf. Often used with around.

v.tr.
1.  To acquire by begging; cadge. See Synonyms at cadge.

2.  Slang To depress, dishearten, or dismay. Often used with out.

adj.
1.  Inferior; worthless: gave me bum advice; did a bum job of fixing the car.

2.  Disabled; malfunctioning: a bum shoulder.

3.  Unfavorable or unfair: got a bum deal on my final grade for the course.

4.  Unpleasant; lousy: had a bum time at the party.
Idiom:
on the bum
1.  Living as a vagrant or tramp.

2.  Out of order; broken.

[Back-formation from BUMMER.]

So here’s “bummer”:

bum·mer (bŭmər)
Share: bum·mer

n.
1.  Slang One that depresses, frustrates, or disappoints: Getting stranded at the airport was a real bummer.

2.  Slang An adverse reaction to a hallucinogenic drug.

3.
a.  A loafer or idler.

b.  A beggar.

[From BUM1, adj.. Sense 3, probably from German Bummler, loafer, from bummeln, to loaf.]

Is this circular logic/definition?

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Posted: 28 November 2013 04:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Could “bum” (in the leftpondian sense) perhaps have a Dutch origin, like so many leftpondian words?

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Posted: 28 November 2013 07:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Is this circular logic/definition?

bummer sense 1 is from bum sense 1.
bum sense 1 is a backformation of bummer sense 3.
bummer sense 3 is from German bummeln.

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Posted: 28 November 2013 01:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Ah - Thanks.

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Posted: 28 November 2013 02:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The association of “bum” with “bummeln” or bummler” is offered as a probability, or as a possibility --- not by any means a certainty, and it looks pretty weak to me.  I am no German scholar, but I think “bummeln” means more than “to loaf” or “to be a vagrant”. Consider J.K. Jerome’s Three Men on the Bummel --- or, if you think that’s an Englishman’s imperfect understanding of the word, there’s the song from Gilbert’s (not W. S.!) operetta Chaste Susanna: wenn der Vater mit dem Sohne auf den Bummel geht.
in both cases, the sense of the word is something like “a cheerful outing”.  I do think the world’s greatest dictionaries might try harder.
Does my suggestion of a Dutch origin draw a blank? where’s Dutchtoo disappeared to? Blackgrey?

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Posted: 28 November 2013 03:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Bummler is German for idler or loafer.

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Posted: 30 November 2013 04:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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lionello - 28 November 2013 02:13 PM

The association of “bum” with “bummeln” or bummler” is offered as a probability, or as a possibility --- not by any means a certainty, and it looks pretty weak to me.  I am no German scholar, but I think “bummeln” means more than “to loaf” or “to be a vagrant”. Consider J.K. Jerome’s Three Men on the Bummel --- or, if you think that’s an Englishman’s imperfect understanding of the word, there’s the song from Gilbert’s (not W. S.!) operetta Chaste Susanna: wenn der Vater mit dem Sohne auf den Bummel geht.
in both cases, the sense of the word is something like “a cheerful outing”.  I do think the world’s greatest dictionaries might try harder.
Does my suggestion of a Dutch origin draw a blank? where’s Dutchtoo disappeared to? Blackgrey?

The first word that sprang to mind when I read this was the boemeltrein. This is a local train that stops at every station and in my mind the boemel part referred to the rattling ang groaning sounds that overused train compartments make (perhaps a cognate of the original sense of ‘bumble’). This turns out to be completely wrong so I am glad you drew my attention to this!

My Van Dale etymological dictionary gives the root as German bummeln (same word you are referring to), which it teasingly adds is ‘probably onomatopoeic’. It also confirms your comments on the subtly different meaning: ‘a pleasant promenade’.

The modern verb that survives in Dutch is boemelen, which means (new English verb alert!) ‘to pubcrawl’. More popular is the expression aan de boemel zijn, which means to go out partying. De Boemel is also a popular name for pubs as I found after 10 seconds googling…

...which led to a bit more detail in an article on the excellent Onze Taal (’Our Language’) website on the above-mentioned expression. It carried on where the Van Dale stopped, saying that the bum sound was applied to clocks striking the hour, and later evolved to describing the action of the pendulum, easily swaying back and forward. Thence the sense of going around enjoying yourself in a bohemic, unworried manner.

In view of all the above, I would say that any putative, particularly Dutch, role in the development of the American word ‘bum’ is entirely coincidental. Butwhaddaiknow.

------------------------------------

PS can someone verbalise the onomatopoeia involved in calling your hind parts ‘bum’? ;-)

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Posted: 30 November 2013 05:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Thanks for the valuable input, BlackGrey.
Etymology On-line suggests a plausible explanation for the origin of “bum” meaning a vagrant (I know of no other source that does). It provides the (to me) surprising information that during the American Civil War, there were more than 200,000 German immigrants in the Union forces. On second thoughts, not so surprising. After the events of 1830 and 1848 in Europe, there was large-scale immigration from Germany to North and South America. Considerable areas of Southern Chile are populated almost entirely by descendants of German immigrants from that period.

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Posted: 30 November 2013 07:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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The German angle does seem more plausible when you present those facts.

BTW, I just remembered that bumsen is German slang for ‘to fuck’. Would that have anything to do with the UK English word ‘bum’? Or maybe they reborrowed it from English?

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Posted: 30 November 2013 10:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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lionello - 28 November 2013 02:13 PM

The association of “bum” with “bummeln” or bummler” is offered as a probability, or as a possibility --- not by any means a certainty, and it looks pretty weak to me.  I am no German scholar, but I think “bummeln” means more than “to loaf” or “to be a vagrant”. Consider J.K. Jerome’s Three Men on the Bummel --- or, if you think that’s an Englishman’s imperfect understanding of the word, there’s the song from Gilbert’s (not W. S.!) operetta Chaste Susanna: wenn der Vater mit dem Sohne auf den Bummel geht.
in both cases, the sense of the word is something like “a cheerful outing”.  I do think the world’s greatest dictionaries might try harder.
Does my suggestion of a Dutch origin draw a blank? where’s Dutchtoo disappeared to? Blackgrey?

I never did get round to reading Three Men on the Bummel. I can’t understand why because Jerome is one of the funniest writers in creation. I see it’s on the net so I have my light reading for tonight. From Wikipedia on Jerome’s use of the term:

D. C. Browning writes “The title must be puzzling to many readers, for ‘bummel’ will not be found in English dictionaries.” It is, as Jerome does not explain until the end of the book, a German word, and apart from his book, it has not received any widespread use in English. (The first American edition, published by Dodd Mead in 1900, was entitled Three Men on Wheels.)
When asked by one of the characters in the book “how would you translate [bummel],” the narrator replies:

“A ‘Bummel’,” I explained, “I should describe as a journey, long or short, without an end; the only thing regulating it being the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from which one started. Sometimes it is through busy streets, and sometimes through the fields and lanes; sometimes we can be spared for a few hours, and sometimes for a few days. But long or short, but here or there, our thoughts are ever on the running of the sand. We nod and smile to many as we pass; with some we stop and talk awhile; and with a few we walk a little way. We have been much interested, and often a little tired. But on the whole we have had a pleasant time, and are sorry when it’s over.”

BTW the word is in OED, the entry dating from 1888, so Browning is clearly referring to standard English dictionaries.

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Posted: 30 November 2013 07:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The origin is uncertain, perhaps onomatopoeic says OED

How so?

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Posted: 01 December 2013 12:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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From OED if it helps (it’s still unclear to me).

Probably onomatopoeic, to be compared with other words of similar sound and with the general sense of ‘protuberance, swelling’, e.g. bump n.1, bumb n. a pimple, modern Icelandic bumba belly of a cask or other vessel, French bombe bomb n. Compare also bum v.1

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