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Increasing Your Vocabulary: Omnibus

People who watch the news might have heard the term ‘omnibus’ and they might wonder what it really means. For example, a newscaster might say something like, “The Congress is set to vote on the omnibus spending bill”. From such statements, people might conclude that ‘omnibus’ means ‘large’, ‘all-encompassing’, or ‘vast’.

Indeed, most spending bills the Congress votes on are large, supposedly all-encompassing, and vast. But that isn’t what omnibus means.

As a noun, omnibus has two meanings. 

1. To reprint several or many volumes by the same author or about the same topic. The Bible is an example of an omnibus, using the word as a noun.

2. A public vehicle that is meant to hold and transport a large number of people. A commercial airliner, bus, or passenger train are all omnibuses if the word is used as a noun, using this meaning.

As an adjective, which is how the term was used in the example sentence in the first paragraph, omnibus means ‘including or dealing with many different things all at once’. An omnibus spending bill doesn’t necessarily have to be large, all-encompassing, or vast. It only needs to cover a lot of things at the same time.

Put in a slightly different way, if you handle your household by setting up a monthly budget, you are almost certainly working with an omnibus budget. You have a set income and must pay for many different things all at once when you are figuring out the budget. This would be just as true if the income was large as it would be if it was small. The budget is often not all-encompassing since there seems to always be some things that aren’t accounted for or that come up during the month that weren’t expected. 

Omnibus is a Latin term meaning “for all”, though it is rarely used in this way.

For that matter, this is quite common for Congressional spending bills. Despite the news media trying to make it sound as if every contingency is covered in a particular spending bill, this is almost never the case.

Although many people hear and sometimes even use the word ‘omnibus’, only some of them actually know what the term means. Prior to reading this explanation, did you know the actual meaning of ‘omnibus’?

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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