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Old 05-30-01, 04:21 PM   #1
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Post Origin of "Busker"

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Dear Word Detective: I'm going nuts trying to remember a certain word. There's a technical term for the people who stand on the street and play music or juggle or do whatever to entertain people out of their money. I want to say the word incorporates the syllable "bask" in it somewhere. Do you have any idea what word I'm trying to think of? -- Christine

The word you're looking for is "busker," but to say that a busker's intent is simply "to entertain people out of their money"seems a bit harsh. Some buskers have loftier goals. When I worked in Manhattan several years ago, there was a very cultivated older man who spent the every morning playing his violin on the subway platform nearest my apartment. At first I
thought he did it for the money subway riders tossed in his violin case. But after a few weeks I realized that the only piece of
music he knew was the theme from "The Godfather" and that he was playing it over and over again because he wanted to drive everyone on the platform insane.

Today we use "busker" to mean an itinerant musician or other entertainer who puts on impromptu shows on the street or in other unorthodox venues in the hopes, in return, of gathering monetary contributions from passersby. But in the 19thcentury, "buskers" took a somewhat more active approach to money-making. The verb "to busk" comes from the obsolete French word "busquer," meaning "to filch, to prowl or to catch." When "to busk" entered English around 1665, it was as a nautical term meaning "to cruise around, tacking with the wind," and by 1734, figuratively "to seek." By 1867, "to busk" meant "to cruise the seas as a pirate," seeking prey. But by about 1851, "to busk" was also being used in its modern sense to describe artisans or entertainers who went from tavern to tavern in search of buyers or an audience. And while today's buskers may drive us a bit nuts, they cannot make us walk the plank.
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Old 05-31-01, 12:11 AM   #2
Prof Willie B
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This is an interesting subject. I recently read a similar definition of the origins of the word "Busker"

The term "busker" in 18th and 19th century England referred to a hat described as capacious, expandable and similar to an unstiffened top hat, common to cockney street performers. The hat was not only used to collect money but also contained props and other performance paraphenalia. It is one of the definitions of the word "Busker" in the Greater Oxford Dictionary but unfortunately not in any of the smaller editions. The smaller editions define busker only as an itinerate street performer and lists the origin as "busk, obscure: to peddle, Cockney).
There are several other literary mentions of the hat (I'll find them and post the info) and any good milliner will tell you that a busker is a hat.

The french word referred to is actually basquer not busquer and I think the connection between the two words is the result of some scholar's over stimulated semantic imagination.

[This message has been edited by Prof Willie B (edited 05-31-2001).]
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Old 06-03-01, 05:08 PM   #3
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At least one small dictionary I checked years ago defined the word "busker" as simply, "street entertainer" and then in parentheses "(origin unknown)." When I tell that story I point out this may make busking the world's SECOND oldest profession!

Peter (the New Orleans GlassHarper) Bennett
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Old 06-05-01, 05:35 PM   #4
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Busking, to make loud show, is a vicktoran word. funny that thay give the canadans credet for the hat part.
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Old 06-06-01, 10:20 AM   #5
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Busking. Nice to finally know the origions of where it comes from. I get asked quite often lately "where does the word busking come from??" with no answer to give. (My guess would have been English though) I have a lot of Yankee friends who've never heard of the word "busking". I tell them I am a busker and they squinch their eyebrows together in concentration.. . . busking??
It has been in my experience that more Canadians are familiar with the term Busking than Americans. I was going on the English influence in Canada for this answer. I'm curious to know what others think--Canadians and Americans alike.


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