Friday, May 28, 2021

kiss your table

The Virus season must be over -- or it is just another peculiar Oregon ritual that has slipped my notice over the last seventy years.

I met my chum Nancy (of the Nancy and Roy traveling companions club) for a chat today in Tumalo. We are both in the process of moving our mothers hither and yon, and decided to meet to swap tales.

We were greeted by a chalkboard that informed us in fussy-fonted penmanship that we were to kiss our table. Well, it told us to "please buss your table." But it is the same thing.

The doubled-s verb took me back to the early 1970s when federal courts ordered local school districts to bus children from one district to another. Newspaper editors were faced with a dilemma. What is the gerund form of "to bus" children?

"Busing" would violate all of the rules of English pronunciation (the few that have managed to survive our mongrel language). People would be prone to pronounce it as if it were spelled "boosing." Without an extra consonant after the vowel, the "U' would be long.

There was, of course, "bussing." But it had already been pressed into service for the act of smooching -- and, coincidentally related to today's topic, it was used for "bussing" tables.

The editors eventually decided on "busing" because the term was to have its own specific political meaning -- and the editors believed people would soon associate the spelling with one of the hot issues of the day. They were correct.

I always thought that was a cop-out. Probably because I was an advocate of "bussing" -- even though it already had two prior meanings.

And, so what? Words often have two or three extra jobs. Like an industrious single mother striving valiantly to make ends meet.

The list of homonyms is long. But you know the usual suspects: address, spring, tender, mean, match, pound. Some are distinguished by altering the accented syllable. But we all use them with a minimum of confusion.

And there are also plenty of them in Spanish. I remember the day a fellow student was stunned to discover that "tiempo" could mean either "time" or "weather." Our teacher then rattled off a number of verbs and nouns that were the verbal cousins of Romulus and Remus. She then pointed out that context would out the true meaning of the word. 

Homonyms are also the very essence of puns. Without those multiple-use words, all of the great jokes in English and Spanish would be -- well, just confusing.

I have not discounted the possibility that the spelling "error" on the chalkboard was meant to be ironic. After all, this is Oregon. And Bend. Where no conversation escapes being larded with subtext that would make Oscar Wilde wish he had not died so prematurely -- and so far away.

So, here is to bussing -- in all its forms.


A good pizza -- but not as good as the conversation.

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