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I want to argue that the lack of inflection for sg. der Busen, pl. die Busen, and what looks like an inherent plural ending points to a plural stem, or potentially dual.


Dual number was alread lost in the common language stage whence also bosom, but there is for example Tür(e), like door, from Proto-Germanic (PGem) *durz: "Likely back-formed from *dʰur-ih₁, an old neuter dual form, ..."; "This word was a plurale tantum in Old Norse, and it might have been used in that way in Proto-Germanic as well. ...". (en.wiktionary; cp. Kroonen, EDPG, 2013)

reflexion requires that the ending has left traces validating the hypothesis. The singular to Busen should be *Bus-, *Buse, theoretically speaking (cp. ''Hose, -n''; NB: ''pantalones, trouser, pants'' are pluralia tantum, and I like to joke that "mein Hosen" sounds natural, too). The schwa'ish -e might be a phonologically erroded reflection of the ending.

Wolfgang Pfeifer notes: "ahd. buosum (8. Jh.), mhd. buosem, buosen ‘Brust, Schoß’, frühnhd. busam, bosam, asächs. bōsom, mnd. bōsem(e), mnl. boesem, bōsem, nl. boezem, afries. bōsem, aengl. bōsm, engl. bosom führen auf westgerm. *bōsma-. Herkunft ungewiß. ..." (cf. DWDS.de). This is in agreement with PGem. *bōsmaz: "Exact origin unclear. Possibly from Proto-Indo-European *bʰōw- (“to inflate, swell”); or from earlier *bōhsmaz ("the space between the arms"; compare *faþmaz), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰāǵʰus (“arm”), whence *bōguz (“upper arm, shoulder”)." (en.wiktionary)

I haven't thought this through when setting out to write this up. The derivations from *bōguz are wild. To stick to the plan and to stay on-topic the discussion of the further etymology should be kept to a bare minimum, accepting uncertainty as a premisse.

The High German -n is a regular change.

Old Saxon (cf. wiki) and Middle High German reflect an ending, sometimes. Otherwise, lacking an etymology, the ending *-a(z) is not waranted, and might have become leveled.

The evidence is chiefly West-Germanic, but the language reality of a Proto-West-Germanic branch is debatable. We do see early Latin loans at this stage. There are compatible etyma for mamma "breast", and Greek μαστός m. (mastós, "breast"). Sinus ~ Meerbusen seems to be a much later calque from Latin (cf. DWDS; post-hoc ergo propter hoc).

Naturally, there exists a wide variety of synonyms and more so euohemism. Nevertheless familiar terms are supposed to conservative and stable as a heuristik. ''Busen'' appears rather clean to me.

The meaning has been questioned before: Is "Busen" just the area between the breasts?.


Question: Do you know a striking hint either way for or against the assumption that Busen reflects a dual number?


PS: I'll also mention beide, cf. PGem *bai ("both", f. *bōz, n. *bō),

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  • Can't support "Meerbusen seems to be a mach later calque from Latin" - where did you get that from?
    – tofro
    Jun 7 at 9:38
  • Da der Dual schon im rekonstruierten Gemeingermanischen keine Rolle mehr spielt, denke ich, dass die Frage hier off-topic ist. (Ob mehr, weil nicht German oder wegen speculation, darf jeder selber entscheiden.)
    – David Vogt
    Jun 7 at 11:18
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    Segen, Drachen, Nachen, Rechen, Flusen, Pansen ... -- aren't words on -en that stay the same in plural quite a common thing? Are you saying these are mostly old plurals? As for "Busen", I don't really understand your argument. What makes you go beyond "possible either way" level about you hypothesis? Would you say that what you cite from Pfeifer supports your argument? How specifically?
    – HalvarF
    Jun 7 at 12:01
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    I suppose it's possible that the word was originally plural, but I wouldn't think the fact that it ends -en really supports the idea. There are many words in German which end -en in the singular, and most of these don't have any connotation of being plural. Consider Boden, Bogen, Brunnen, Garten, Graben, Hafen, Laden, Samen, etc. Feminine and plural have similar conjugations so it seems like there might be a historical connection there. But Busen is masculine which wouldn't fit with this connection, assuming it exists.
    – RDBury
    Jun 7 at 12:08
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    Just for completion, because it wasn't immediately clear to me: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_(Grammatik) It is probably too hypothetical to reason about Busen being an original(tm) Dual. Today it is singular der Busen, a sinoid curve. In anatomy and geography and possibly elsewhere.
    – user41853
    Jun 7 at 12:15
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»... what looks like an inherent plural ending ...«
You think -en is a plural ending?

No, it's not:

Leben, Norden, Osten, Süden, Westen, Rahmen, Wagen, Zeichen, Morgen, Schaden, Garten, ...

Nor is -sen an indicator for plural

Wissen, Essen, Wesen, Rasen, Eisen, Felsen, Kissen, Besen, Tresen, Spesen, Fressen, Grinsen, ...

Some of these words even are singulariatantum, i.e. they even don't have any plural form. And those who have a plural form, have all a plural that in nominative case is equal to the singular form.

The German word »der Busen« was Middle High German »buosem« or »bousen« and Old High German »buosam«. It has the same root as the English word »bosom« and this Proto Indo European root is »bhu-«, »bhou-« or »bheu-«. This is a verb and it means »to swell«, »to make bigger«, »to blow up«. Also »to blow« derived from this root, as well as German »blasen«, but also English »to boil« and German »Beule« (bulge). Also German »der Bausch« (dapper).

So, the original meaning of German »Busen« and English »bosom« is:

a swollen or blown up thing

I couldn't find out when people started to use this word for women's breasts, but there is no indication, that the ending of the word has anything to do with the fact that women have two breasts.

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  • This instance of -en is and isn't plural. That's where I stopped reading. The majority of -en endings are plural. Your understanding is either intentionally misleading or unfortunately ambiguous about it. Frankly, it does not matter at all for the answer, how I arrived at thequestion. Its simply the starting motivation.
    – vectory
    Jun 7 at 16:54
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    »That's where I stopped reading.« Well, if you ask a question and don't want to read answer that contradict your wrong preconception, than you will never find out what's correct. Jun 7 at 17:49
  • On when people started using the word for women's breasts, Wiktionary claims that people started using "bosom" to mean that in the 20th century and gives a quote from 1910. I'd be surprised if the answer for Busen wasn't about the same.
    – RDBury
    Jun 8 at 1:25
  • @RDBury at least W. Busch used Busen (together with a nice alliteration :-)) few decades earlier. But that of course doesn't change the principle.
    – user41853
    Jun 8 at 7:15
  • @HubertSchölnast Nowhere in your text have you pointed out "what is correct". This fact isn't changed by my not not reading it. Nor does it confuse me any more than I already am that you are trying to sell absence of evidence for evidence of absence. I was just saying, I could tell from the first line that there's nothing in it for me. Now I'm saying I stand correct.
    – vectory
    Jun 14 at 13:17
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I am not a linguist, but the word Busen seems closely connected to an old word for lips (see https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bosom). This word is still around in colloquial German with the word Bussi, meaning kiss.

That could mean that Busen orginally connoted as something like "for the lips" or "to the lips" reflecting the act of feeding the child.

This would rather speak against the word beeing an old dual.

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  • On the other hand from my intuitive language understanding Busen always means the whole body part, which means a plural exists only when referring mulitple individuals. Maybe it was possible to speak of Busens in such a context and it just vanished. Jun 7 at 10:45
  • Sidenote: The word Busen appeals somewhat archaic nowadays. It was used often in context of speaking heroically. The usage in everyday language now shifted more towards speaking of a female breast, which is not wrong, but very different from the former meaning. This too can be confusing when thinking about duality in this word. :) Jun 7 at 10:51
  • If you read the page for bosom and follow to Proto-Germanic *bosmaz, which I already linked, you'll see that the connection is uncertain. That could be because the suffix as it were would be left unexplained. The page does not mention anything about "for the lips", and it would anyway not preclude formation of a dual. That Bussi belonged with PIE *bhewH- would be no less tentative, not the least because the rate of roots for "to swell" is too damn high and the semantics in the actual comparads is much of a stretch.
    – vectory
    Jun 7 at 13:11
  • You might imagine the same answer given to a question for bum.
    – vectory
    Jun 7 at 13:15
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    @vectory: Bum's not German. It might though be that the underlying reasoning of the whole question is let's say culturally biased. Busen does not only mean 'human female breast'.
    – user41853
    Jun 7 at 14:42

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