I have noticed with increasing frequency of late that the world ‘bum’ has slipped into the parlance of the United States, not just as a reference to a hobo sort, but also as an alternative (semi) vulgarism for backside.
I like that. It’s a better word than ‘ass’ for the same gluteal territory. Not that there was or is anything wrong with ass, and at certain times under certain circumstances it is almost ideal. But bum is such a cute word. It’s fun and bouncy. Children just past nursery age will use it, and moms will simply smile, because they use it themselves.
Canada got bum by way of default from England, but for some reason the Yanks didn’t pick up on it until recently. I suspect the popularity of certain BBC offerings has a role in this, as well as English movies. But, I am happy for the Americans. With all the other stresses in the world they must endure, I think they’ll be comfortable that bum has entered the lexicon in its backside sense.
I find bum to be just an ideal reference to that part of our bodies. It can be slightly (or very) sexual when used in certain contexts, but it can also be innocent and, as I suggested, even children friendly. Little children also think it’s a screamingly funny word. At least they did when I was young and I hope they are not now so jaded and corrupted by the crass crap on television that bum has lost its ability to amuse.
Bums, as we have come to know and love them, have gone by many different references throughout the history of the language. At the clinical end, we have buttocks, gluteus, and the disagreeable sounding rectum. At the polite parlance end we have derriere, or seat, or even backside. We also use fanny when speaking pleasantly – which residents of the United Kingdom find both shocking and hilarious since ‘fanny’ there describes a bit of female anatomy a bit to the front of the bum, and is not considered a polite usage at all. We can knock somebody on her fanny. If a Brit does it’s gonna hurt a lot.
Then we come to the vulgarisms. I mentioned ass, which has its virtues, and the more venerable arse. There is also butt, heiny, tush, slats and it goes on and on, and indicates to students of the language that this is a mighty important part of our structure. I mean, how many alternate words do we have for elbow, for example?
The bum has a prominence in culture that is astonishing, considering its rather rudimentary function, aside from looking cute. After all, we design toilet seats to provide just the right amount of comfort at a time of elimination. Aside from sitting down, it is also ‘us’ at our most basic.
Our involvement with our bums is an extensive one, not all of them pleasant. In the days when it was acceptable parental behavior to give a kid a damn good licking, the bum was that which received the admonitory blows, since to be spanked there was considered less potentially harmful than to be pummelled on any other part of the body. We also use the bum clinically, as the recipient of assorted, and always unpleasant inoculations. On the other hand, it is also the area that can be playfully smacked by lovers who might not yet be at a stage of overtly caressing its contours.
The bum has other functions that range from the poetic (as in looking good in a pair of white shorts), to the ridiculous, with its outline exaggerated in a clown suit, to the extreme, as in sticking it out undraped from a car window if you happen to be a bored adolescent on a Saturday night.
There was also the much-vaunted backside of Prince William’s sister-in-law, the beautifully gluteal Pippa Middleton of which a gazillion randy press photogs made a fetish.
I could also mention Miss Kardashian but I choose not to.