Thursday, May 29, 2014

Language of Confusion: Feeling Bushed

Bush is one of those words that gets weirder the more I look at it. If you look at a forest, there’s probably going to be some bushes there. But if you’re really tired, you’re also bushed. So if a bush is tired, it’s a bushed bush.

Words! There’s a reason I call these posts “Language of Confusion”.

Bush, the plant, comes from the Old English bysc and further back, the West Germanic busk, which had the same meaning. There are similar words in other languages (Old French had busch, which meant wood, while Medieval Latin had busca), but it seems that West Germanic was the one that started using the word first and it permeated through other European languages. It’s worth noting that the modern French word for wood is bois, which was passed along to French Canada as boisé, which is where the capital of Idaho comes from. As for why it also means tired, the only real guess is that it’s from the sense of being lost in the woods. I guess that would make anyone tired.

Is that all? No, you don’t get off that easily. There’s also the word ambush. It first showed up in the early fourteenth century from the Old French embuscher. As I mentioned, busch means wood, and the em- prefix means in, so it means “in woods”. Which is a good place for an ambush. Seriously, that’s why ambush is ambush.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. Hi Jeanne .. had to look up bush Brewers (which I use constantly) .. apart from your derivations here ... Bush is apparently an Australian term for wild, wooded and sparsely populated country, derived from the 'bosch' Dutch word ... connotations in South Africa for that one too ..

    Interesting as there's a lot more Australian and SA links .. despite Shakespeare and other medieval European and Roman connections ..

    Love learning all these ..cheers Hilary

  2. We may never know why it means tired.
    Does that make Busch beer French?

  3. I wouldn't have made the connection between the town of Boise, and the French word bois, though I'm quite familiar with it being used in the archaic term coureurs de bois, which translates to woodsmen in general, or fur traders.

  4. Embuscher reminds me of embouchure. Too many years in band, I guess. (In case you don't know, the embouchure is your mouth on a woodwind or brass instrument.) Wouldn't it be funny if those two words were related?

    The other thing this post brought to my mind...

    via Twitter @GoogleFacts: The psychological effect wherein you repeat a word until it loses its meaning is called Semantic satiation.

  5. was the last name of two U.S. Presidents! Maybe we're trying to forget that rendition of the word, though...

  6. I've never understood saying you're bushed when you're tired. It's such a weird one...

  7. I love that's why ambush is ambush.


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