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.”