Bus Your Coffee Cup?

Bus your coffee cup?

No, this isn’t a bus stop! When you’re at Rao’s in Thorne’s Marketplace in downtown Northampton, you’re already where you want to be. The coffee’s strong, the tea comes from an excellent assortment, the sandwiches are fresh and tasty, and the pastries — don’t ask! Too tempting, is what they are. It’s a great place to kill an hour or so waiting for the car to get a checkup, or an oil change around the corner at our auto repair shop.

But that’s as close as Rao’s gets to being a place of transportation! So what’s with the “bus”?

Most Americans know, but many folks from elsewhere may not, that one of the several definitions of the word “bus” is a verb meaning “to clear off a table in a restaurant.” It seems that the first time the word was recorded with that meaning was in the early 20th century. It came out of the late 19th century’s use of busboy to mean a waiter’s assistant. And that usage derived from the noun bus, meaning  “a hand-pushed four-wheeled cart used to carry dishes in a restaurant”.

Before that, back around 1830, bus was an abbreviation of the word omnibus, meaning “a four-wheeled vehicle with seats for passengers used for public transportation.” It was adopted from the French, voiture omnibus,  a carriage for all, a public transportation, and was introduced in Paris in 1820 by one Jacques Lafitte.  (Omnibus is Latin for “for all,” the dative plural of omnis “all.”) It seems that, as comedian Steve Martin once exclaimed in mock exasperation, “Those French! They have a different word for everything!”

I’m so used to the verb “to bus” that I don’t even notice its oddity in conversation. But I was taken aback at Rao’s, and couldn’t help wondering how it affects the self-bussed return rate of used coffee cups and plates and cutlery. Encouraging? Or discouraging? Or, more likely, nobody ever even notices — except a blogger, one of a breed that tends to notice everything.

Rao's, Not a Bus Stop

I wonder what kind of bus stop would have a sign as ornate and curlicue as Rao’s sign? Here’s a more conventional view of Rao’s, in case you’re thinking of stopping in next time you get to Northampton:

Rao's, at Thorne's

This entry was posted in Definitions, Etcetera, Food, Pioneer Valley, Wonderings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Bus Your Coffee Cup?

  1. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Fascinating, and I agree a blogger notices everything and finds the best stuff to share as you have. Now if you could just arrange to share those cakes . . .


  2. coastalcrone says:

    I would stop there for coffee and calories! Interesting…


  3. cocomino says:

    I didn’t know the meaning of bus. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  4. I would almost drive my car up to Northampton for a tune up! Great place to wait and indulge. You always take it one step further. Nice job.


  5. Patti Kuche says:

    I would never have guessed and it certainly looks more stylish than a big plastic tub sitting there. As for those pastries 🙂
    Rao’s does look very cosy!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      The nice wooden counter pretty well hides the big plastic tub. (It’s there, lurking behind and below.)
      Come on up, Patti — same offer as to Gemma. You visit, I buy!


  6. A great opportunity taken for a little etymology. Nice!


  7. 2e0mca says:

    Thanks for a fascinating insight into the different meanings of Bus, Judith – hadn’t come across Busboy before! You learn something new every day 🙂


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Being from the US, busboy is just part of our vocab — but BUS startled me in that visual context, and the etymology was interesting to uncover.
      Always a pleasure to have you visit, Martin!


  8. atwistedpair says:

    Etymology is something I, too, have a taste for. But I live in Wellington, New Zealand, so it’s a long, long way for me to come for “coffee and calories” (as one commenter puts it).


    • Touch2Touch says:

      In this life, we never know though, do we?????
      Don’t the Antipodes mean the opposite ends — of the earth? We certainly live at opposite ends, you and I. But New Zealand’s beauty is legendary, and I for one wish I’d had the opportunity to see it for myself. By bus, if necessary!


  9. Pauline says:

    Add an S and kiss the cook after you bus your own table 😉


  10. mybrightlife says:

    After years in the trade I am familiar with the term ‘busboy’ but I wonder if I would have noticed the word at Raos or made the connection. Suspect I might have been too caught up in the pastries!


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