The Motor Bus


"The Motor Bus" is a macaronic poem written in 1914 by Alfred Denis Godley (1856–1925).[1][2][3]

The mixed English-Latin text makes fun of the difficulties of Latin declensions. It takes off from puns on the English words "motor" and "bus", ascribing them to the third and second declensions respectively in Latin, and declining them.

At the time of writing Godley, a distinguished Classical scholar, was Public Orator at the University of Oxford. The poem commemorates the introduction of a motorised omnibus service in the city of Oxford. Corn and High are the colloquial names of streets in the centre of the city; several Colleges of the University are located in High Street. The poem has since been cited in the context of the recent introduction of larger vehicles (including "bendy" buses).

The poem may owe its continued popularity to the large number of pupils who formerly had to learn Latin as a compulsory subject for University entrance exams (not just for Oxford and Cambridge) in the United Kingdom.[4] Most of them will have used a primer in which Latin nouns were declined; for example, servus, serve, servum, servi, servo, servo (depending upon the order in which Latin's six casesnominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative—were listed). The poem provided interest to what was a very dry subject for most school pupils.

The poem's rhymes assume that the Latin words are read using the traditional English pronunciation, which was taught in British (and American) schools until well into the 20th century.


Following each repetition of the phrase "Motor Bus" is the Latin number and case of the words in the original poem.

What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicat Motorem Bum!
in the Corn and High
Terror me Motoris Bi:
Bo Motori clamitabo
Ne Motore caedar a Bo—

Dative be or Ablative
So thou only let us live:—
Whither shall thy victims flee?
Spare us, spare us, Motor Be!
Thus I sang; and still anigh
Came in hordes Motores Bi,
Et complebat omne forum
Copia Motorum Borum.

How shall wretches live like us
Cincti Bis Motoribus?
Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Motores Bos!

What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus? (singular nominative)
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Denotes a motor bus! (singular accusative)
It fills me, in the Corn and High,
Terror of the Motor Bus (singular genitive)
I will shout out to the Motor Bus (singular dative)
Lest I be killed by the Motor Bus— (singular ablative)
Dative be or Ablative
So thou only let us live:—
Whither shall thy victims flee?
Spare us, spare us, O Motor Bus! (singular vocative)
Thus I sang; and still anigh
Motor Buses came in hordes (plural nominative)
And the whole forum was filled
With an abundance of Motor Buses. (plural genitive)
How shall wretches live like us
Surrounded by Motor Buses? (plural ablative)
O Lord, defend us
Against these Motor Buses! (plural accusative)


The poem is quoted by Dorothy L. Sayers in her essay "The greatest single defect of my own Latin education" and other texts.[5][6][7]

Herbert H. Huxley dedicated to A. D. Godley his short Latin poem "Mars Bar":[8]

Est praedulcis esu Mars-Bar.
Nil est cibo tuo, Mars, par.
Tune vis beatum larem?
Habe promptum Martem-Barem.
Captus dono Martis-Baris
Helenam liquisset Paris.
Dum natabunt ponto scari,
Dentur laudes Marti-Bari!

Version of Motor Bus 2022Edit

In April 2022 a new version of Godley's Motor Bus, using less Anglicised pronunciation of Latin and adopting a more positive approach to the motor bus, was proposed by classicist Armand D'Angour. Alternative phrases in English that scan in place of the Latin are given in square brackets.

Make a trip without a fuss:

What is best? The Motor Bus.

Train or car is not our way:

te amamus [we just love you], Motor Be!

Bicycles may work for some:

poscimus [we demand] Motorem Bum;

amor – for Love is the key –

implet nos [fills our hearts] Motoris Bi;

let us offer praise and glory

excellenti [to the splendid] Bo Motori:

think ‘what fun!’, before we go,

vehi [riding] in Motore Bo.

At the ready stand, we see,

candentes [shining bright] Motores Bi.

(You would tell, I’m sure, some stories,

if you could, O Bi Motores);

many others stationed close

videmus [we observe] Motores Bos.

We admire the decorum

omnium [of all these] Motorum Borum.

Fortunate are those like us

usi [who use] Bis Motoribus!

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Alfred Godley (1914). Letter to C. R. L. Fletcher, Jan. 10, 1914. "The Motor Bus," Printed in Reliquiae, vol. 1 (1926).
  2. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
  3. ^ Kingsley Amis (ed.), The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse
  4. ^ Ireland's Other Poetry: An Unfashionable Poet: A D Godley
  5. ^ Dorothy Sayers The Greatest Single Defect of My Own Latin Education Online version accessed on 2009-06-25.
  6. ^ Dorothy Sayers (1952), Address to the Association for Latin Teaching (ARLT) 1952. Online version accessed on 2009-06-25.
  7. ^ Latin For Today vol. 2, p. 10
  8. ^ Herbert H. Huxley (1975), Mars-Bar. In LACT Newsletter. Translations & versions accessed on 2009-06-25.