Where Does the Word “Bus” Come From and What Does Omnibus Mean?

In the spring of 1662 a new conveyance appeared upon the streets of Paris.

They were large coaches or carosses with places for eight passengers and, under decree of Louis XIV, they were authorized to run upon fixed schedules, whether filled or empty, to extreme parts of the city.

Their great virtue was in the low cost of transportation, five sous per person. This made it possible for persons in modest circumstances to ride; the cost of carriage hire at that time might come to thirty or forty times such a fare.

However, though expressly designed for the conveyance of infirm and needy persons, it was not long before the coaches catered almost exclusively to the wealthy or to those well able to provide themselves with other transportation.

But Dame Fashion is notoriously fickle; it became unfashionable to ride in these coaches, and the socially elect abandoned them to the common herd. They, in turn, would now have nothing to do with the cast-offs of society, and the enterprise failed.

Nevertheless, these coaches; running upon regular schedules over established routes and at fixed low fares, were the forerunners of a system of passenger transportation which has become universal. A century and a half passed after the initial failure, when, again in Paris, larger coaches with places for fifteen to eighteen persons appeared upon the streets in 1827.

These bore the inscription along the sides, Entreprise generale des Omnibus. The venture became successful immediately, for the word omnibus, a Latin term meaning “for all”, was assurance, that anyone who could pay the fare was acceptable as a passenger.

Two years later, when a similar system of transportation was introduced into London, its promoter, Mr. George Shillibeer, wisely adopted the name already generally used in France and called his larger coach, drawn by three horses and carrying twenty-two passengers, an omnibus.

Within three years Londoners had familiarly lopped off the first two syllables and, in speech and writing, said that they were traveling by bus, the term now ordinarily employed.

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