I know "omnibus" to be a term describing multiple novels put into a single book, but I've never really heard or read the term anywhere else. Because of this, I'm curious: how widely used is the term "omnibus?"

Context: I am writing a piece where I am considering the use of the word, but am unsure of whether I should use it because it may be archaic, obsolete, or just not widely used.

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    Better on English.SE? – Azor Ahai -him- Oct 14 '20 at 19:41
  • @AzorAhai--hehim -- No because I'm asking about word choice for a book. – Voldemort's Wrath Oct 15 '20 at 13:44
  • Doesn't matter why you're looking for it, but questions about usage and frequency would be on-topic there. – Azor Ahai -him- Oct 15 '20 at 13:58
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    @Voldemort'sWrath: "Omnibus" is used to refer to a collection of stories, not necessarily a collection of novels. I had (many years ago) a copy of Groff Conklin's "Omnibus of Science Fiction." That is a collection of science fiction short stories. The book was first published in 1952. – JRE Oct 15 '20 at 15:21
  • Omnibus originally referred to carriages intended to carry many passengers. That's the predecessor to the modern day "bus." An omnibus carried many unrelated passengers going various places to do various things. An omnibus collection is a bunch of things (stories or music or whatever) whose only real commonality is that they are collected together in one place (the omnibus collection.) – JRE Oct 15 '20 at 15:35

Here you go... Google Trends and "omnibus"


google trends omnibus

Here's an even better one comparing three terms. Now you can see how it is used relatively to something like "short story".


three terms

  • But an omnibus is not a short story nor is it a novella. It's a collection of multiple books that are bound as one book. But that's still helpful, thanks. – Voldemort's Wrath Oct 15 '20 at 13:52
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    @Voldemort'sWrath I think raddevus included those other terms for comparison rather than implying that they meant the same thing. – motosubatsu Oct 15 '20 at 14:58
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    @Voldemort'sWrath I just stumbled upon this use of omnibus on amazon (short story omnibus -- amzn.to/3dEbZyH) Just thought it was an interesting coincidence. :) – raddevus Oct 16 '20 at 13:43

The Oxford English Dictionary, which lists all its meanings says its quite frequent.

This word belongs in Frequency Band 5. Band 5 contains words which occur between 1 and 10 times per million words in typical modern English usage. These tend to be restricted to literate vocabulary associated with educated discourse, although such words may still be familiar within the context of that discourse.

The word is used often on radio in this country: the omnibus edition.

I'm not sure I've ever heard it used about a collection of novels.

  • So I guess in the context I need it (collection of novels), it is not widely used? – Voldemort's Wrath Oct 15 '20 at 15:43
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    Hmm, the cite you give seems to me to say the opposite of your conclusion. "these tend to be restricted to literate vocabulary ... although MAY still be familiar ..." Sounds to me like they're saying that the word is only familiar to a relatively small number of well-educated people. – Jay Oct 15 '20 at 16:31

Purely anecdotal evidence, but I'm a native English speaker, well educated, and pretty literate, and "omnibus" meaning "multiple novels in a single book" is one of those definitions that I had to think about a little while before I said to myself, "Oh yeah, I think I've seen it used to mean that once or twice."

I don't think it's widely-used enough that you could expect a general reader, even a well-educated, literate reader, to be familiar with that definition.

Like any word that might be unfamiliar to the general reader, you can use it if you briefly define it on first mention. Like, "An omnibus -- a collection of novels included in a single volume -- is commonly published when ..." or whatever. In this case the definition needn't be long. It's not like you're trying to refer to some very complicated topic that would require a long explanation.

But I wouldn't expect a reader to just know what it means.

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