So, a few days ago I mentioned that I took a busman’s holiday, meaning that I did the same thing on vacation (go to museums) as I do at work (go to a museum), and I wondered about the derivation of this interesting phrase. When did busmen first take holidays in such a way, and how did it enter popular culture?
My OED (1971 compact edition) gives the first use of bus, from omnibus, to Harriet Martineau, 1832, but is of no help with the holiday. Wikipedia is of no use (though you can find out about the excellent Dorothy Sayers novel Busman’s Honeymoon, dating the phrase back to the ’30s at least). A few places date it to 1893, for some unsourced reason. The “word detective” (scroll down) debunks a claim that it refers to 19th C London horse drivers who rode the buses surreptitiously on their days off to see how the horses were treated, but claims that it really refers to a “buzzman’s (that is, a pickpocket’s) holiday,” which is to say, they never take a vacation, which also sounds a bit specious.
Etymological speculation aside, the interesting part of this story is how buses and their drivers became culturally connected to great (verging on excessive) dedication and unbreakable habit. This is not the general image of bus drivers in my city currently, at least. Please help, transportation historians.