Sometimes words can keep buzzing around in my head for a long time. Not infrequently, these words are related to transport. Names of stations (Reaumur- Sebastopol – Paris, France), announcements in underground carriages (Berhati-hati di ruang platform – Singapore), and destinations of buslines (Cribbs Causeway – Bristol, UK) can stay with me for a long time, and usually cheer me up. My latest buzz-word was leoforío, which is Greek for bus. I think it is a beautiful word for such an ordinary artifact, but where does it come from?
When you look at the Greek words for means of transport, most of them are pretty logical for a Northwestern European. Autokínito means car, aeropláno means airplane, tram means tram, tréno means train, and podílato means bicycle (think of pedaling). To find out what leoforío means literally, I looked up the meaning of the words leo and forío. This was very satisfactory for the dreamer in me, because leoforío seemed to mean ‘lion carrier’ and in my biggest fantasies even ‘lion on wheels’. But the rational part of me took over quickly, and suggested that this was too good to be true.
I needed a helpline – always good to have some language experts as relatives. It turns out that leoforío is derived from leofóros, the Greek word for a wide road, and that it has nothing to do with lions. Leo comes from laos, which means people. And so a leofóros is a people carrier. And a leoforío is too. Right, that sounds very convincing.
But now I am left behind with the bus-word. Why hasn’t the beautiful word leoforío made its way to Northwestern European languages, like auto did? This could well be because of the Roman empire, that spoiled us with the Latin word omnibus, which means ‘for everyone’. We were just lazy and shortened it to bus.
Whatever the explanation, I will keep seeing lions on wheels out on the roads.