Saturday, 30 November 2013

Busk - Entertaining on the Streets

Photo by W.Tipton


Verb. Mid-17th century.
[French busquer (obsolete) seek, hunt for, from Italian buscare or Spanish buscar, from Germanic.]

1 verb intrans. NAUTICAL. Cruise about, tack. Now rare or obsolete. M17

2 verb intrans. Look for, seek after. rare. M18

verb intrans. Play music, or otherwise entertain, for money in public places.
Formerly also, peddle goods. Chiefly as busking verbal noun. M19

4 verb trans. & intrans. Improvise. slang. M20

Also: busker noun an itinerant musician or actor, especially one performing on the street. M19

To busk, busking, and busker were always going to capture my attention, having done a little busking myself in the past and also being a Spanish speaker: to busk shares a root with buscar, a Spanish verb still in common use that means to "to search, to look for." The idea that a busker is searching for something - whether it be recognition, money, fellow artists, a means of self-expression, or just one or two people to stop and take some pleasure in the fruits of his artistic labours - is as fitting an etymology as a word could ever have.

Photo by Alfonso Tochis
It's also noteworthy that to busk doesn't necessarily refer to a musician (although that's probably the most common type of busker), but can mean any public entertainer, be they musicians, magicians, comedians, jugglers or story-tellers. Sometimes, when in public, out amongst the rabble, it's true that we all have to fight the urge to just put our heads down and speed along the pavement as fast as we can, avoiding all eye-contact and human interaction. However, if something from a busker catches us, we should slow down, stop, and just allow ourselves to be entertained for a few moments. Once it's time to move on and rejoin the rat-race, we can express our gratitude with a simple thanks and a few coins (but, seriously, no coppers - they don't want them either).

In truth, probably the most entertaining "living statue" I've ever seen
(photo by Anneli Salo)
*Note: While busking can refer to street performers that play music "or otherwise entertain", it should be noted that so-called living statues are excluded from this definition. You know the ones - the guys that put on a silly costumes, spray themselves silver and then stand on a box, still. Seriously. The excluding detail here is "entertaining", as entertaining they ain't. Therefore, I implore all of you not to be living statue enablers, do not support their dark art, and do not be (un)entertained by their inane inactivity. They are the Jeremy Kyle of the busking world, the Nickelback of street performers, and the Miley Cyrus of talent. Oh, and I once heard that a lot of them are on drugs. And entertain far-right views. And kick puppies for fun. So don't, just don't, support living statues.

Are you a busker?

Do enjoy buskers?

Do please publicly entertain us with your comments below.


  1. How about those annoying hyper-religious people who are trying to save your soul in the middle of a busy shopping street? Are they buskers? (eventhough they might not mean to be entertaining, they do say some funny stuff sometimes) Jesus loves me too, but I don't want him to be there when I'm buying new underwear, necessarily.

    1. I suppose they could be described as busking for or after you, as per Sense 2, just as those bib-wearing, clipboard-wielding charity workers are busking for your donations (I *really* don't like them, and not because I begrudge giving to charity, but because I begrudge being stopped in the street and asked for my bank details by someone that is trying to guilt-trip me into donations when they're getting paid for doing that). Still, none of them are are as bad as living statues - at least the evangelists and charity-hawkers are actually *doing* something.

  2. Buskers are just as annoying as charity hawkers, soap box preachers and the spookily talented human statues. You're made to feel guilty for walking along, going about your business without paying to hear a mediocre version of an average song you didn't choose to hear. Instead you get a withering look silently calling you a miserable cheapskate who doesn't care that I've been standing here playing wonderful music all day strumming my fingers to the bone to support my wife and kids etc etc.
    This could be changed with a slight alteration to their business plan. Why not have a prepaid song request text service? Then at least you could walk down the street guilt free while listening to music you actually like.

    1. Standing still is not a talent; neither is sleeping during the day, as if it was I'd be a genius and I'd be busking my talents in the city centre daily.

      Do the play the guitar? Can you hold a tune? If so, you might be on to something with your text ahead request service. Maybe a smart phone app that buskers pay to log into, that notifies you (the man in the street) that you'll be passing said busker and offers you the chance to make a request. Business plan? This is what busking needs - fresh, innotive talent to address the market dynamics of modern streets.

  3. Look At fatty Spider man.WWE NXT