Busing

Recently while reading Douglas Coupland novel Gum Thief I came across a used of bus(ing) that I hadn’t heard before – one of the characters talks about “busing” tables, which sounded a bit strange to me. I’m familiar with the word busboy, but haven’t been quite sure what a busboy did. Now I’ve discovered that a busboy, busgirl or busser is someone who works in a restaurant clearing and laying (busing) tables and helping the waiting staff – a kind of assistant waiter. I’ve never heard this expression being used in the UK though and, as far as I know, no equivalent position exists here – waiters and waiteresses are normally responsible for clearing and laying tables.

The use of busing to refer to clearing tables was apparently first attested to 1913 and probably comes from the four-wheeled cart used to carry dishes.

In the UK the word busing might be used in the context of transporting people by bus, especially school children. According to Wikipedia busing is “The transportation of schoolchildren, by bus, to schools in other neighbourhoods in order to alleviate social inequalities or to achieve racial integration.”

Are busing or to bus used in other English-speaking countries? If so, what does in mean?

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This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

19 Responses to Busing

  1. Sean says:

    Here’s the US take:

    As far as busing tables, I’m surprised you’re not familiar with its usage. I guess that it must be American. It is a very standard word, and you’re likely to hear it when you go to a restaurant. For instance, if I’m waiting on a dirty table, they’ll likely say to me “hang on while we get someone to bus the table” or “hang on while we clear the table for you.”

    Then, of course, you can be bussed to a place, by riding in a bus.

    In jest, in getting ready to drive a group of people together, I might mention that I’m busing people to wherever we’re going.

  2. Don’t use Wikipedia for word definitions — that’s what Wiktionary is for: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bus#Verb (and it notes that the food-service-industry usage is particular to the US).

  3. Justin says:

    Now that you mention it, I’ve always gotten quizzical looks from UK friends when I ask ‘Do they bus here?’ i.e. do we need to take our plates and trash up to the counter, or do they do it themselves? Must be an Americanism, but I have no idea where it came from.

  4. dmh says:

    Excellent! Another way to befuddle any UKers I may meet :)
    Along with the question. You say: “Forget>have forgotten”, so why not “get>have gotten”?

  5. Christopher Miller says:

    Oh, back in the 70s when I worked in restaurants, we used the term all the time. (Canada, so I guess it is North American English, at least, and not just a US regionalism like “soda” for soft drinks.)

  6. Petréa Mitchell says:

    Another datum here for the restaurant meaning of “busing” being common here in the US. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the transportation meaning used here for anything except the relocation of children to other schools for integration. In fact, reference to children being bussed, with no other context, is assumed to mean for desegregation.

  7. Julia says:

    I’ve always use “bus” in terms of clearing the table- it must be an American word. My mother would always ask me to “bus” the table. Only some larger restaurants have “busboys”- A lot of small ones don’t. I’ve had female friends refer to themselves as “busboys”, and I’ve never heard the term “busgirl”.

    I’ve never used “bussed” or “bus” in terms of taking the bus. I usually just say “I take the bus” or similar. “Busing” also brings up the huge controversy of desegregating schools in the 70s (as the wikipedia article mentions), which is what I would think about if someone used the verb “bus” in terms of taking a bus- so in my mind it kind of brings out a negative connotation.

  8. michael farris says:

    “a busboy, busgirl or busser is someone who works in a restaurant clearing and laying (busing) tables”

    I’m pretty sure that in the US as a general rule the same busser does not both clear and set the table. Either the server or a separate designated busser sets the table. The idea of the same person doing both is kind of yechhy….

    And for my generation ‘busing’ implies court ordered busing for purposes of desegregation. That is if children are ‘bussed’ they’re being sent a further away school because the local government doesn’t want single race schools. Other wise the children take the bus to school.

  9. LandTortoise says:

    In a UK context I’ve only once heard the word “busboy” used by someone to describe his job. I noticed it was pronounced “buzzboy”. By the way, one dead give away that someone grew up in Lancashire (maybe the north in general) is that they retain the pronunciation of “bus” (as in vehicle) as “buzz” long after losing other features of the accent. Also, the other giveaway of Lancashire origins is the word “yesterday” pronounced with stress on final syllable as opposed to standard stress on first syllable.

  10. Nash says:

    I’m also from Canada (Alberta) and am familiar with “busing” in both senses, i.e. busing tables and busing as transportation – although I’m not aware of any racial implications by the use of busing as transportation, and it’s not limited to schoolchildren – it simply means one is taking the bus (as opposed to taking a cab/cabbing it, or driving). PS: just found your site and love it.

  11. Dee says:

    I’ve lived in New Zealand and Australia and it was quite common to hear “Are you bussing?” meaning “Will you be catching the bus?” – no other connotations. I’ve never heard the word applied to clearing tables, though when I visited San Francisco a year ago I couldn’t understand anything the waiters said, so they may have used it then and I didn’t realise :)

  12. Ian says:

    In Australia the expression isn’t used in restaurants but is common, as Dee says, to mean “going be bus”.

  13. You can also bus someone — that is, kiss someone. This usage doesn’t seem to be that common in the US anymore, though.

  14. Paul S. says:

    It’s no good – I’ve got to stick an extra ‘s’ in there. ‘Busing’, to me, looks like it would be pronounced [bju:ziŋ].

  15. Michael says:

    I agree with the American statements above, and have definitely not heard it used in reference to schoolchildren. As for the desegregation, I usually hear it as the particle verb “bus in”, so “They bus the kids in.”
    If I just heard something like, “They bus the kids,” I don’t know if I’d immediately understand.

  16. Michael says:

    I haven’t heard it used for normal schoolchildren, I mean.

  17. Jim Morrison says:

    ‘I walk to work’.
    ‘I am too lazy for that so I just bus it’.
    I am from the UK and this is used but it seems like slang to me.

    As for busing tables, I had never heard of it. I had heard of a Busboy but I never knew what it was.

  18. jdotjdot89 says:

    I’m an American, and I have never heard the word “bus” used with regard to restaurants in any sense. I’m from the Northeast.

    Who knows… maybe it’s just a dialectical difference.

  19. Chris Zedillo says:

    Here in California “busing” meaning to clear tables at a restaurant is very commonplace usage. Lots of high school kids get their first job busing down at Denny’s or other similar restaurants.