Daily Archives: December 1, 2010

quidnunc

Oh, what now? Another funny-looking qu word? Well, yes, but this one’s for a sort of quid pro – not that a quidnunc necessarily believes in quid pro quo, though some will pay to get what they want. Enquiring minds want to know – and, if you ask the National Enquirer, in some matters the only way you’ll get the real goods is by paying.* But this is not some Shakespearean cockney saying “I’ll give you a quid, nuncle, if you tell me the latest.” (Nor is he offering a five-spot… anyway, the usual five-spot pattern is a quincunx.)

No, it’s just someone – anyone – who keeps wanting to know the latest news. Whoever it is, if they sniff some new scuttlebutt, they’ll quickly dun you for it. Could be a gossip columnist who spills more ink than a squid (Hedda Hopper, perhaps?). Could be an average dunce, a small mind with petty interests. You know, a gossip, a busybody, a nosy person.

But why, if we already have several synonyms, do we need another word for this sort of person?

Need? Who said anything about need? The desire for novelty seeks no justification. And this word has something others lack: a tinge of erudition – since, after all, it’s from Latin (quid “what” and nunc “now”). It also has a kind of tricky puckishness to it, like a quick little character, an imp of a person perhaps. The darting sense is aided by the vowels: the first one zipping quickly front and high, like an upward motion; the second lower and farther back, neutral, the classic “dumb” vowel landing with a “thunk.”

And what a fun shape this word has, no? It’s like someone has been given some pieces and is turning them around to examine them – perhaps for topographic information, perhaps to find a way in: q and d, u n u n… c. And the i? Why, that’s what’s doing the looking.

*How do they justify this direct transgression of the fundamental principle of “journalistic ethics” that, however much money you may make on a story, it’s wrong to give any of it to the person(s) who gave you the information you needed? Well, in the Enquirer’s line – which largely involves dishing dirt on individuals – people who give facts for free often have an axe to grind, while the people who know the facts often have a lot to lose by telling them… not to mention that they may have other people also willing to pay (the Enquirer pays for exclusivity). Of course, sometimes paying backfires, too. But that’s really a big debate for another time and place.

bussing

I was squished into the number 34 bus, jouncing along Eglinton Avenue, when I heard a familiar creak, a sound rather like two people clad head-to-toe in leather rubbing against each other.

Not rather like. Exactly like. No, not even like. Of.

I turned around to see, standing behind me, Edgar Frick and Marilyn Frack, enjoying the incidental frottage engendered by the uneven paving as each bump rubbed them together. Before I could turn away and pretend not to have seen them, Marilyn’s eye snagged mine and her left eyebrow arched like a firework. “Edgar,” she purred, “look who’s here.”

“Hey there,” I said. “Busing today, I see.”

“Well, no, you don’t see, because we haven’t been,” said Edgar, “although, now that you mention it, it does sound a good idea.”

“No,” I said, “with one s.”

Marilyn was momentarily nonplussed. “I’m sure I don’t quite follow. We are bussing, and how does one do it with one s? Wouldn’t that be like ‘bew-zing’ – perhaps abusing ourselves? …Which –” she gave Edgar a quick smack on the butt cheek – “might not be such a bad idea.”

“Marilyn, my luscious peach,” Edgar said, “have you never encountered the one-s-two-s distinction? How amusing. Or amussing. You see, bussing with two s’s is from the verb buss, meaning ‘kiss’.” He gave her a smoochlet on the cheek (I mean the one on her face). “Which is why the ‘using the bus’ busing is spelled with one s.”

Marilyn’s eyebrow went up again. “Really! A new word for ‘kiss’. My life has been ever so depraved without it.” Pause, then, purring, “I’m sure I meant to say ‘deprived.'” Another pause as the bus jolted. “But how could I not have heard or seen it before?”

“No one uses it,” I said. “It can be found in Shakespeare, and in poetry up to the 19th century, but now pretty much anyone who knows it only knows it because they were told it was the reason they couldn’t spell what we’re doing now –” the bus lurched as if to illustrate – “with two s’s. But of course many people do anyway.”

“Well, that seems rather half-essed,” Marilyn said, smirking. “But now you clever boys are going to tell me how a word for something so soft and a word for something so hard came to be so similar.”

Buss, the kissing kind, is thought to come from the same Latin root that gives us Italian bacio, Spanish beso, and French baiser,” I said.

“Whereas bus, the riding kind, is short for omnibus,” Edgar added. “Amusingly, it’s the inflectional ending. Omnis means ‘all’ and omnibus means ‘for all’.”

“Hmmm… a genuine inflectional ending,” Marilyn purred. “I don’t mind ending with a genuflection. But first, if bussing is for all, then let us have one for all.”

She leaned into Edgar and planted her rosy-reds on his lips, but hardly had they made contact when the bus hit a pothole with a bang that sounded like a gunshot, and Marilyn’s lipstick left a red streak over half of Edgar’s face. Marilyn steadied herself against her consort and said, “Good gracious, what was that!”

I suppressed a smirk of schadenfreude and replied, “A blunderbuss.”