A: “Fussbudget” isn’t a very old word. It was first noted in a list of U.S. dialect terms from New York state compiled in 1904, and it was also recorded as a New Englandism in the early 1900s.

“Budget,” on the other hand, goes back to 15th-century England, where it was first a word for a pouch or bundle, and for the contents of such a pouch. (The word derives ultimately from Latin “bulga,” denoting a leather bag.)

By the 16th century, “budget” had acquired the sense “a supply or stock,” as in references to “a budget of contradictions” or “a budget of knowledge.” The most common use of this sense was in referring to “a budget of news” such as one might receive in a long newsy letter, or from a long-absent relative. Because of its “news” associations “budget” was eventually employed in the names of newspapers all across both the United States and Great Britain, whereas in the United States the “bag” or “bundle” sense was restricted to the local dialect of Appalachia.

The now common senses of the word relating to financial planning developed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

That said, we don’t have any compelling indication that “fussbudget” is directly related to any of the senses of “budget” that were in use in America around the turn of the century. Could a fussbudget be a “budget” – that is, a bundle or a collection – of fuss? Perhaps, but there’s no way of telling for sure. It might simply be the case that “budget” was added to “fuss” as much for its sound as anything, an explanation that would also account for such occasional synonyms as “fuss-bucket,” “fuss-buddy,” “fuss-bug” and “fuss-button.”
Q Why do we call people who show extravagant sympathy “bleeding hearts”? – K.A., Liberty, Mo.
A: First came “one’s heart bleeds,” used most sincerely to express anguish or sorrow or pity, beginning with Chaucer, who wrote over 600 years ago in Troilus and Criseyde that his heartbroken hero “thought he felt his heart bleed.” The phrase is of course now used insincerely or ironically as frequently as it used sincerely.

We didn’t have “bleeding heart” until the late 16th century, almost 200 years after Chaucer. Back then it referred to one’s anguished heart, not to a person, and it too was used most sincerely, as in this heart-rending scene from Richard Johnson’s “The Seven Champions of Christendom”:

“When Rosana perceived her to be dead and she left to the world devoid of comfort, she began to tear the golden trammels from her head, and most furiously to beat her white and ivory breast filling the empty air with clamors of her moans, and making the skies like an echo to resound her lamentations, and at last taking her mother’s letter in her hands, washing it with floods of tears, and putting it next unto her naked brest, she said: here lie thou near adjoining to my bleeding heart, never to be removed until I have performed my mother’s dying testament.”

The use of “bleeding heart” for a person is quite new, having been first recorded in the 1940s. It has never been intended as a compliment; its insinuation of unwarranted or excessive sympathy has always been prominent. It is probably now most familiar as a term embraced by conservatives to disparage liberals, and it is often now used like an adjective, as in “bleeding-heart liberal.”
This column was prepared by the editors of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition.

Readers may send questions to Merriam-Webster’s Wordwatch, P.O. Box 281, 47 Federal St., Springfield, Mass. 01102.


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