It's the new black.

What’s in an Omnibus?

New York Public Library

One of my favorite books that I own is the Dorothy L. Sayers Omnibus. It’s a three-in-one volume, containing Whose Body?, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and Suspicious Characters (later retitled Five Red Herrings). It’s an early edition, listing The Nine Tailors but not Gaudy Night or Busman’s Honeymoon. I would estimate publication between 1934 and 1936, though I’m no expert.

I love this book because it is crinkled and old; the pages are yellow; the print is archaic. I also love this book because it is an omnibus.

 According to the beloved OED, the word derives from the Latin by way of French. The Latin word omnibus is the dative plural of “omnis,” thus meaning “for all.”

The Oxford English Dictionary lists six or seven definitions of “omnibus”, of which I include:

  • A large public vehicle carrying passengers by road, running on a fixed route and typically requiring the payment of a fare; a bus (bus n.2 1). Now chiefly hist. (esp. with reference to a horse-drawn vehicle of this kind) or formal.
  • Anything which contains, covers, or includes a large number of (usually miscellaneous or diverse) items or elements.
  •  Used in the title of a newspaper or journal containing a variety of items. Obs.
  • A book consisting of several reprinted works by a single author, or various items of a similar genre, usually published as a single volume. Freq. in titles.

I find it fascinating that the word began English use as a transportation term, and then also as a literary one. The Gaudy editors have been exploring the thematic connections between transportation and magazines, or specifically, the Gaudy magazine we’re dreaming up.

Both public transportation and magazines seek to help people make connections between old places and new ones. Both should be affordable or free. Both are a public service. Both require readers (or riders) to meet others of different backgrounds and new ideas. Both shape their content (or their riders) through their aesthetic: we interact differently on the subway, or on the bus, subtly influenced by the structure and the images around us.

It’s quite an image: as I open the pages to Sayers Omnibus, I am climbing aboard a double-decker, a trolley, a subway, riding to who knows where. – Gabrielle


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This entry was posted on July 12, 2012 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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