28

I thought "der Busen" meant breasts. But then I heard someone knowledgeable claim it was just the area between the breasts. I didn't understand all he said and it would have been too awkward for me to ask him.

Here's an illustration:
Aphrodite of Milos
Attribution: SpirosK photography from Athens, Greece [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)] Link: Aphrodite of Milos

Does "Busen" denote the area between the breasts or the breasts?

3
+25

The word Busen refers to terms we all agree on

  1. the female breasts (Busen)
  2. a bay (Meerbusen)

Then some you might have heard from

  1. the human breast area in general (Brust)
  2. the human inner breast where feelings arise
  3. the area between the (female) breasts

And some you might have never heard from

  1. a fold in the upper part of clothing (Falte im Oberteil eines Gewandes) used for transportation or storing personal items - there are a lot of examples in the bible
  2. shirt collar (Hemdkragen)
  3. lap, in the meaning of the area on top of the thighs of a sitting person (Schoß)

Just to name a few.


All of these definitions can be found in the Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm. But it says nothing about 5. the area between the (female) breasts. Can we say Busen doesn't denote the area between the breasts?


Let's take a deeper look.

One way is to look for historic examples where someone refers to the area between the breasts as Busen.

[...] und gab es dem Weib, so wie ich auch die übrigen [Eier], die ich sorgfältiger geöffnet hatte, meinen übrigen Mägden gab, sie in ihren Busen zwischen den Brüsten bis zur Zeit des Ausschliesens zu erwärmen.

source: Der Römisch-Kaiserlichen Akademie der Naturforscher auserlesene medizinisch-chirurgisch-anatomisch-chymisch- und botanische Abhandlungen, Band 20 from 1771

Will it be so easy? Unfortunately I don't think so. I'm pretty sure the author refers to 6. a fold in the upper part of your clothing, where he told his maiden to put the eggs, so they are warm and can hatch.


Ok next, at least there is one thing we can say so far: Anatomists do say Busen, when they are refering to the area between the female breasts, as anatomists Helmut Wicht is quoted in this blog entry and there are a lot of other online dictionaries, where we can find this.

Anatomists call the area between the female breasts

Sinus mammarum (old)

Sinus intermammarius

Sulcus intermammarius

or sometimes just short

Sinus

Sulcus

where Sinus can be translated as

Bauch, Tasche, Bucht (paunche/bulge, pocket, bay)

and Sulcus as

Rille (groove)

But OMG! Wait a minute and let's go back to Grimm's Wörterbuch. Right there ... in the very first line

busen, m. sinus, κόλπος, sl. nadro, njedra, ahd. puosum (Graff 3, 218)

Is Busen for the area between the female breasts no more than a direct translation of the latin word Sinus, which is short for Sinus intermammarius/mammarum the anatomical name for the area between the female breasts? It makes sense.

Also, Helmut Wicht assumes, that it all started with the book Die alten deutschen Kunstwörter der Anatomie, because it's the root for a lot of Eindeutschungen. But I'm not sure about it, but take a look for yourself. But if it is true and the new meaning established around 1890 it wouldn't be found in the (earlier) Grimm's Wörterbuch.


Conclusion:

I think it's perfectly fine to say that the word Busen is referring to the area between the female breasts and no one will doubt it refers also to the female breasts. And even if I'm wrong with this derivation, anatomists are saying it anyway.

Fun fact: According to Grimm's DWB when talking about breasts Busen always refers to both breasts and the plural Busen refers to the breasts of multiple women.

32

According to Wikipedia it can mean both things.

  1. Die zwei Brüste des Menschen werden auch als Busen bezeichnet.

or

  1. Die Bucht oder Rinne zwischen den beiden Brüsten heißt Busen;

But especially in daily use I would assume most people use it as the first definition. German is my mothertongue and I honestly did not know about the second definition.

  • 12
    I still have problems to accept Wikipedia as a quotable source... at least as long there are better sources available. That's because Wikipedia entries are multi-authored and especially fluid. – Christian Geiselmann Jun 17 at 14:33
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    I have some trouble with that first definition. I am reasonably sure that, without any qualification or really obvious context, almost everybody I know would not interpret "Busen" to mean "a human's breast" and certainly not "a man's breast", but almost exclusively a "woman's breast". – Jörg W Mittag Jun 17 at 16:26
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    @JörgWMittag that's just because we rarely talk about man's breasts in comparison^^ – Frank Hopkins Jun 17 at 16:34
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    Notice: The Wikipedia entry was changed yesterday. The second definition was removed. – Björn Friedrich Jun 19 at 8:44
  • 1
    @SerenaT previously: "die weibliche Brust als Ganzes oder die Vertiefung zwischen den Brüsten einer Frau"; since June 18th: "die weibliche Brust, in der Regel als Ganzes; veraltend auch die männliche Brust als Ganzes" – Björn Friedrich Jun 19 at 11:06
30

The usage of the word has changed over time.

These days, it usually means the female breast.

About 200 years ago, it was also used not for the area between the breasts, but also for the inside, the chest or rib-cage area.

This poem by Heinrich Heine contains the lines

Dem König wards heimlich im Busen bang.

This is about a king, and he starts to feel fear. As he is a man, it doesn't refer to the breasts, and also not to the area between the breasts.

  • Also in other older poems and books they sometimes refer to the 'busen' also for males. – Marco Jun 20 at 15:11
  • Selig, wer sich vor der Welt / Ohne Hass verschließt, / Einen Freund am Busen hält / Und mit ihm genießt. / Was von Menschen nicht gewusst, / Oder nicht bedacht, / Durch das Labyrinth der Brust / Wandelt in der Nacht. Goethe's poem An den Mond is also clearly about a man's breast here. – jonathan.scholbach Jun 20 at 20:25
21
  • The word is, as far as I can see, almost completely equivalent with the English bosom. Both come from a West-Germanic root. Both can mean female breasts, "especially as a single feature", as Merriam-Webster succinctly puts it ("sie hat einen schönen Busen", meaning both breasts), as well as male or female chest.

  • The contemporary meaning in German is, in my experience, shifting towards being a synonym for the female breasts. The old usage (e.g. a male speaker exclaiming to an old friend "Komm an meinen Busen!") sounds funny to me and would likely be used as an ironic exaggeration only.

    As always with old words there is a certain gap between poetic, formal or generally high-level language on one side and casual everyday use on the other. In casual language I think the word is used exclusively as a synonym for "female breast", even in separation. For example it would not sound immediately wrong to me (as it did for the Grimm brothers as quoted in Michael Hoppe's answer) if one said "ihr linker Busen ist größer als ihr rechter".

  • Answering and discussing the question I learned that indeed in anatomy the gap between (probably female) breasts can be called Busen, in a translation of sinus [mammarum] (see e.g. an entry in the Brockhaus). The background is perhaps that the sinus in the abstract sense is a curve which can go both ways; Meerbusen also is a translation of sinus, sinus maritimus.

I initially went and removed the "gap" meaning from the wikipedia page which initiated this discussion; but as I said I found several dictionary entries supporting that meaning in an anatomical context and now re-added the "cleavage* meaning on the wikipedia page. All edits are still pending. Sorry about all the work for the reviewers, whoever they are.

  • 2
    In my opinion, this is the best answer so far. – Björn Friedrich Jun 18 at 9:16
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    @BjörnFriedrich Thank you. I always try. ;-). – Peter A. Schneider Jun 18 at 9:48
  • There is a follow up blog entry by him 6 months later where he goes deeper and concludes "Die „Ursprungsbedeutung“ von Busen ist einfach nur „Brust“, aber der Weg, auf dem das Wort in der Allgemeinsprache zu einem Wort für die weiblichen Brüste und in der Anatomie zu einem Fachbegriff für den Bereich zwischen den Brüsten geworden ist, wäre allemal spannend genug für die Rückseite einer Cornflakespackung. " – mtwde Jun 19 at 12:27
  • @mtwde Interesting, thanks. For what it's worth, I have started a collection of arguments for and against the "cleavage theory" on the talk page of the wikipedia.de Begriffsklärung for Busen in order to provide arguments for my still pending edit of that page (I eliminated the "cleavage" meaning which started this silly discussion). It is, after all, an enjoyable topic. – Peter A. Schneider Jun 19 at 13:21
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    @vectory I think these questions are beyond the scope of the OP, which was "Does "Busen" denote the area between the breasts or the breasts?". Note the present tense ;-). The answer is "usually the breasts, and only rarely, in anatomy, the gap between them." – Peter A. Schneider Jun 19 at 21:35
13

The noun Busen is generally a synonyme of weibliche Brust (female breast).

I have only learned now, while doing research for this answer on Wikipedia, that Busen may also be used for the depression between the two female breasts. Unfortunately, Wikipedia remains silent about the origin of this usage. Other sources, such as the DWDS and Duden Online, do not know this meaning.


Edit: Notice that the Wikipedia entry was changed on June 18th 2019. The definition that Busen may also be the depression between the breasts was exchanged with the definition that it used to be also referring to the male breast.

  • 12
    From skimming this SciLogs article it looks like this: "Busen" originally meant "breast" in general, not just female. Over time, it got additionally established as a medical / anatomical term for the Sulcus intermammarius (the valley between the female breasts). Now, every now and then somebody has heard about that technical term and thinks they know the "proper" meaning of "Busen". But I don't have time to delve deeper into that right now. – Henning Kockerbeck Jun 17 at 7:43
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    @Hobbamok Kann es sein, dass Sie hier irgendwas missverstehen? Ich habe Wikipedia zitiert und dazu geschrieben, dass ich selbst das, was da (bis gestern) stand, noch nie gehört habe und dass ich bei anderen Quellen keinen Beleg dafür gefunden habe. Jetzt stellen Sie es so dar, als wäre das mit der "depression" meine eigene Meinung, die man widerlegen müsse??? Im Gegenteil, ich bin eher bei der Definition die Sie ja auch anführen. Also kein Grund mich mit schroffen Worten zurechtweisen zu wollen ... – Björn Friedrich Jun 19 at 8:42
  • @BjörnFriedrich Interesting that you can see my pending wikipedia edit -- when I logged in from a different machine without my wikipedia account I could only see it when I looked at the editing history. Just out of curiosity -- is that a feature of logged-in users, i.e. were you logged in when you could see it? Btw, it's obviously good that there is some review mechanism; after all, after my edit this Austrian medical dictionary surfaced which indeed lists this obscure entry. I still think it's correct to edit it out though, all the more on a short Begriffsklärungsseite, it's obscure. – Peter A. Schneider Jun 19 at 14:12
  • @PeterA.Schneider Wikipedia zeigt nicht angemeldeten Nutzern standardmässig die zuletzt von einem Nutzer mit Sichterrechten gesichtete Version an. Ein Benutzer mit Account kann es in seinen Einstellungen so konfigurieren, daß er immer die neueste Version angezeigt bekommt. – Nils Jun 19 at 17:04
9

A word where you can still see "Busen" referring to something with a concave shape is "Meerbusen" (= "sea bosom") which just means a big bay.

  • 2
    Als Meerbusen, aber nicht als Busen, oder? – user unknown Jun 17 at 23:35
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    @userunknown Der Jadebusen is the Jade Bay/Bight. At least it isn't explicitly der "Jademeerbusen"... – Alexander Kosubek Jun 18 at 7:49
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    It's not quite clear to me whether a bay is concave -- some of the land is missing -- and thus supporting the cleavage theory; or whether it is convex -- the sea is protruding. I suppose it depends on the point of view. The Latin word for bay, sinus, is basically a curve and afaics can be concave (cavity) or convex (bosom), in good Latin tradition (altus -- high/deep, fides -- loyalty/trust) which makes a lot of sense. – Peter A. Schneider Jun 19 at 14:07
  • @AlexanderKosubek: Und die Touristen, sagen die, wenn sie zum Jadebusen spazieren wollen "Auf gehts, zum Busen!"? Oder sagen sie "Jadebusen/Meerbusen"? – user unknown Jun 19 at 17:31
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    @vectory scnr: Klar könnte man des Meeres Busen sagen; wie man überhaupt so manches sagen könnte. Im Falle des Busens des Meeres ist dieses "könnte" aber ein Irrealis, kein Potentialis, von Ausnahmen zum Zwecke der Demonstration mal abgesehen ;-). Da gebe ich unserem unbekannten Nutzer Recht. – Peter A. Schneider Jun 20 at 9:33
9

"Busen" and "Brust" are quite different: "der weibliche busen, doch nicht im sinne von mamma, uber; man kann nicht sagen die milch im busen, dem kind den busen geben statt die brust; gleich unstatthaft wäre der rechte oder linke busen für die rechte oder linke brust."

from the Grimm Brothers, see http://woerterbuchnetz.de/cgi-bin/WBNetz/wbgui_py?sigle=DWB&mode=Vernetzung&hitlist=&patternlist=&lemid=GB13460#XGB13460

NB: "Heutzutage" wird mit "Busen" meist Anderes gemeint. Als ich als Bub Märchen las, steckte sich oftmals jemand etwas in den Busen -- ich konnte mir beim Willen nicht vorstellen, wie das halten sollte ... Bis ich eben vor einigen Tagen im Grimm unter (3) las: "das die (weibliche oder männliche) brust zwischen armen und hüften hüllende, sich darum biegende gewand". Endlich Klarheit nach fünfzig Jahren!

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    das deckt sich aber nicht mit kontemporärer nutzung. – ths Jun 17 at 19:00
  • @ErdincAy Ich möchte neben der Bemerkung von Björn Friedrich bezüglich der B-Note, der ich mich anschließe, inhaltlich folgendes zu bedenken geben: Die Wikipedia-Seite zur Begriffsklärung eines Wortes ist sicherlich keine Stelle für etymologische Erörterungen. Die aufgeführten Bedeutungen sollen sich vermutlich doch daran orientieren, was ein Benutzer vofinden kann. Das schließt sicherlich veraltete Bedeutungen ein, denn es werden ja auch alte Texte gelesen; aber völlig obsolete Bedeutungen gehören wohl eher nicht in die Liste. – Peter A. Schneider Jun 19 at 14:54
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    Ich würde die Bedeutungen nicht alt, sondern vielmehr ursprünglich nennen. Von wegen "alter" Bedeutung: wir wissen, "Kunst" kommt von "können" und "Vernunft" von "vernehmen", aber wer weiß -- ohne zu grimmen -- von welchem Verb "Macht" abstammt? – Michael Hoppe Jun 19 at 15:05
  • @MichaelHoppe Und was will der Dichter uns nun sagen? ;-) Da die Bedeutungen nicht "alt" sind, soll man sie mit aufführen? – Peter A. Schneider Jun 19 at 17:13
  • @MichaelHoppe: Wie ermittelt man denn den Ursprung eines Wortes? – user unknown Jun 19 at 17:35
1

"Der Busen" (bosom) is generally the female "Brust" (breast) but in the whole, meaning both breasts. (Wikipedia)

Duden differentiates it from the female breast as following:

Female breast in its vivid appearance especially in regards to its erotic appeal.

Duden also indicates it as a synonym to the female breast or breasts but more in a poetic or antiquated way.

As a native speaker i would say, it simply means the whole female "breast area" but clearly not just the area between the breasts.

On the other hand, Wikipedia states in its article about "breast" that the area between two breasts is called "Busen". This is also describes in this article (in German).

But how come that this meaning is so unknown under German native speakers? There is an interesting article about this question (sorry, again German). Summary: It is the former or rather historical meaning.

The correct (or rather modern) name for the area between breaths is "Sulcus intermammarius" btw.

0

Does "Busen" denote the area between the breasts or the breasts?

As the question in a paradox reading implies (area between (the breasts or the breasts)) the answer is yes--which wouldn't happen with singular "the breast".

Whether the ridge gave a meronym, a subsense, of the more general whole, or vice-versa, is anyhow not part of the question, but still interesting to ask. I'm afraid I cannot decide it, and the thread so far is not completely clear either. The majority seems to think the word had always described tits.

Indeed, -en in most cases shows plural. der Busen would thus be a pluraletantum like die Eltern, and this point is driven further by the lack of a separate plural morpheme in die Busen (which would thus imply two peoples'bosoms). This is just a hint, not compelling evidence, as the English and German forms differ too much, which is expected for ever so slight taboo words. Further considerations would have little to do with modern German, so I will skip analogous comparisons of tit and zit.

The question can be parsed as an inclusive or. In that sense, the chest bone area as the center of gravity of the bosom is the anatomical human chest more truly than the "milk bags" that bosom today generally refers to.

  • In (the breasts or the breasts) - wo liegt da der Unterschied? Ist einmal "breast" gemeint (Einzahl)? "In most cases plural" - das habe ich jetzt nicht nachgezählt, aber anhand der Mehrheit der Fälle kann man das wohl nicht vermuten (siehe Hoden, Magen, Wagen, Rasen, ...). – user unknown Jun 20 at 18:43

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