Green’s Dictionary of Slang

bust n.

[dial. var. on SE burst]

1. a ‘break’ or collapse in one’s life or one’s affairs; a failure.

(a) (US) an inadequate individual; of circumstances, a serious failure, esp. an embarrassing one or a misjudgement.

[US]Knickerbocker (N.Y.) XX 99: ‘A mistake!’ exclaimed the other; ‘not a bit of it! It’s a reg’lar built bu’st!’ [DA].
[US]Bartlett Dict. Americanisms (2nd edn).
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 23 Nov. 1/2: [headline] The Bike ‘Bust’.
[US]T.A. Dorgan in Zwilling TAD Lex. (1993) 22: The doctors said that my glims were no good – I was an awful bust on the up and down – I couldn’t see a thing.
[US]D. Hammett ‘Corkscrew’ Story Omnibus (1966) 221: These hicks think you’re a bust, but I know different.
[US]M. West Babe Gordon (1934) 115: Up in Harlem the Bearcat was regarded with contempt. He was laughed at as a ‘farce’, a ‘lemon’ and a ‘bust’.
[US]C. Odets Waiting for Lefty Act I: You’re a four-star-bust!
[US]N. Algren Man with the Golden Arm 286: I’m the biggest bust out of the museum.
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 96: Providence is a bust in all ways—as a seaport, as a capital and as an old, civilized center of population.
[US]H.S. Thompson letter 28 Apr. in Proud Highway (1997) 541: But the year has been a bust.
[US]E.E. Landy Underground Dict. (1972).
[US]J. Webb Fields of Fire (1980) 73: ‘My squad’s half gone. Think I got seven medevacs.’ [...] ‘Wow, man. What a bust.’.
Online Sl. Dict. 🌐 ‘That party was a bust.’.
[US]Source Oct. 216: Sadly Can I Bus is a bust.
[US]J. Ellroy ‘Hot-Prowl Rape-O’ in Destination: Morgue! (2004) 268: Nothing. Zero, zilch, bupkes, bust, goose egg, gornish.
[US]A. Steinberg Running the Books 230: The first week was a bust [...] An audible groan went up as soon as the opening black and white credits appeared on the screen.
[UK]Times 5 June 🌐 We could plot to take the bint out as Kev was a bust on it.
[US](con. 1991-94) W. Boyle City of Margins 216: ‘How’d it [i.e. a drug experience] go?’ Sky asks. ‘A bust,’ Antonina says.

(b) (US campus) failure in one’s examinations; a hard examination.

in Lucky Bag (US Naval Academy) 66: Bust [...] a failure. Bost (cold or frigid) [...] A bad or total failure [HDAS].
[US]E.H. Babbitt ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 25: bust, n. A failure in recitation or examination.
[US]Baker et al. CUSS 92: Bust [...] Difficult exam.

(c) (also busting) a financial collapse.

[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 20 May 5/1: He knows more about what he is talking than fat Duncan Gillies who sailed in on the ‘boom’ and went out on the ‘bust’.
[US]C.L. Cullen More Ex-Tank Tales 116: I had $30 when the bust came.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Broadway Financier’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 213: Somebody suspects something illegal about the busting.
[US](con. 1944) N. Mailer Naked and Dead 330: I been plannin’ for a bust ’cause we got an overexpanded economy.
[US]S. Bellow Augie March (1996) 106: The Commissioner died before the general bust.

(d) a demotion.

[US]G.E. Griffin Ballads of the Regiment 46: The system of ‘busts’ and promotions.
[US](con. 1918) J. Stevens Mattock 248: Anyhow, you’re due for a bust. Sockin’ a sergeant with a bottle!
[US]J. Jones From Here to Eternity (1998) 5: What’s your wahine goin to say? when she finds out you took a bust to transfer?
[US]H.S. Thompson letter 25 Oct. in Proud Highway (1997) 20: Nothing worse than a bust could result from it.
[US]Wentworth & Flexner DAS.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Peacock Valhalla 502: ‘The stripes, the chevrons. I don’t want ’em any more. I’m takin’ an automatic bust.’ He turned and walked out.
[US]J. Crumley One to Count Cadence (1987) 129: Service policy had changed from the days when a dose was an automatic bust.

(e) (US tramp) a serious mistake; a piece of very bad luck.

[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 43: bust. An error or bad ‘break.’.

(f) (US black gang) a coward, a weakling.

[US]L. Bing Do or Die (1992) 23: He’s a bust; he ain’t down for his hood.

2. in the context of crime, a break-in, a raid.

(a) a burglary; 19C use only in UK but extended in Aus. use.

[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 90/1: The ‘bust’ the previous night and the ‘snapping’ of Yellow Jemmy he was well acquainted with.
[UK]J.W. Horsley Jottings from Jail 23: Fatty Bill, from City Road, rem for a bust ex 2 years.
[UK]Newcastle Courant 18 Nov. 5/2: You never arst him not to ask me to go that other bust, did you?
[Aus]Sun (Sydney) 17 Aug. 7/6: At the police station Kinman said, ‘I’ll take what is coming to me as far as the ‘bust’ is concerned, but don’t go too hot on the gun stuff.’ Walker said, ‘I suppose I’ll get the ‘twist’ (indeterminate sentence) for this.’ .
[UK]Thieves Slang ms list from District Police Training Centre, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Warwicks 2: Bust: Breaking [sic].
[US]H. Corey Farewell, Mr Gangster! 279: Slang used by English criminals [...] Do a bust – burglary.
[UK]J. Worby Spiv’s Progress 34: What about doing a bust, eh, Bonzo, are you game?
[UK]K. Howard Small Time Crooks 65: The busts never got reported and only the guy that ran the store knew that Max Gallo had done it.
[Aus]J. Alard He who Shoots Last 35: Eyebrows O’Leary is doing a stretch over some out-of-town bust.
[NZ]D. Looser Boobslang [U. Canterbury D.Phil. thesis] 35/1: bust 3 a burglary.

(b) (also bust-up) a police raid, esp. on drug-users or dealers.

[UK]D. Stewart Shadows of the Night in Illus. Police News 7 Dec. 12/3: ‘There’ll be a bust now very soon, through that cursed [Inspector] Hicks’.
[US]New Yorker n.d. 48: One whiff [of marijuana] and we get a bust [W&F].
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 39: bust up A raid.
[US] ‘King Heroin II’ in D. Wepman et al. Life (1976) 171: He’ll punch you, kick you, knock you in the dust, / ’Cause there’s nothing he likes better than a junkie bust.
[US]N. Heard Howard Street 24: An escape route for everybody [...] when the cops are out to make a bust.
[UK]Observer Mag. 14 May 53: This is famous territory. The French Connection drug bust happened here.
[UK]A. Sayle Train to Hell 77: How to cope with a drugs bust.
[UK]G. Burn Happy Like Murderers 153: The noise at night and the falling around. The raids. The busts.
[Aus]R.G. Barrett Wind & Monkey (2013) [ebook] Now they’d have two cops hanging around for a piddly, square-up pot bust.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 13 Jan. 1: Along which the fuzz must have charged en route to the bust.
[NZ]D. Looser Boobslang [U. Canterbury D.Phil. thesis] 35/1: bust n. 1 a police raid.
[Aus]D. McDonald Luck in the Greater West (2008) 40: They’d tracked him down [...] and told him about the bust.
[UK]K. Richards Life 210: The bust was a collusion between the News of the World and the cops.
[Ire]L. McInerney Glorious Heresies 9: All-Ireland finals, drug busts, general elections.
[US]D. Winslow Border [ebook] Cirello’s double life is about to end. With an enormous bust.
[US]D. Winslow ‘Broken’ in Broken 14: The night after the big bust [...] the cops repaired to Sweeney’s [bar].

(c) (orig. US) an arrest; a criminal charge.

[US]M. Spillane Long Wait (1954) 185: When the bust came Johnny ran to save her neck, not his own!
[US]C. Brown Manchild in the Promised Land (1969) 199: If there wasn’t so much time on a drug bust, I suppose a lot of other people would’ve gotten into it.
[US]E. Bunker Animal Factory 1: Two hundred kilos of marijuana and a kitchen table with forty ounces of cocaine was just too big a bust.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 24: Wedged under a tiny headline between a one-ton coke bust and a double homicide.
[Aus]R.G. Barrett Between the Devlin 126: ‘It’d be a good bust for them [i.e. the police], Mick. They’d love that, on the news and everything’.
[US]N. McCall Makes Me Wanna Holler (1995) 182: For twelve cartons of cigarettes, a guy could take out a contract to have somebody set up on a drug bust.
[US](con. 1964–8) J. Ellroy Cold Six Thousand 8: Pander beefs – 3/44 up [....] No busts outside Vegas and Dallas.
[NZ]D. Looser Boobslang [U. Canterbury D.Phil. thesis] 35/1: bust 2 an arrest.
[US]M. McBride Swollen Red Sun 162: ‘[T]his here bust’ll make you a hero’.
[US](con. 1962) J. Ellroy Enchanters 75: She used to rat pill pushers [...] to buy out of her own busts.

(d) (US black) by metonymy, the police.

[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 66: Terms range from the more or less neutral designations like [...] the bust, the heat.

(e) (US prison) as ext. of sense 2d above, a prison sentence.

[US] in S. Harris Hellhole 229: Let’s suppose I’m in on a short bust. Let’s say I’m in for ninety days.

3. a break or escape from conventional life.

(a) (orig. US, also bust-up) a drinking party, a spree, a celebration.

implied in on a bust
[US]Bartlett Dict. Americanisms 57: buster, or bust. A frolic, a spree. ‘They were on a buster, and were taken up by the police.’.
[US]N.Y. Times 28 Sept. 2: The Street-Boys [...] all have a slang language, so that they can recognize one another, and converse in a crowd. [...] To ‘tip a bust’ is to give a treat, and to ‘do a flat’ is to cheat a countryman.
[US] ‘Californian Song’ in Bartlett Dict. Americanisms (1877) 86: And when we get our pockets full / Of his bright, shinin’ dust, / We’ll travel straight for home again, / And spend it on a bust.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 30 May 22/3: ‘[T]he little woman’ and he attendant sirens were lavishing their sweetest No. 1 smiles upon two sunburnt ‘Jackeroos’ from the Namoi, who were enjoying a fortnight’s ‘bust’ as a reward for having successfully pulled their selections through the inquiry for the company, by eclipsing the record of the historical Ananias.
[Ind]Kipling ‘Her Little Responsibility’ in Civil & Military Gaz. 19 Sept. (1909) 19: I might have got back after the first one, and been a prominent citizen, but the second bust settled matters.
[Aus]W.A. Sun. Times (Perth) 26 Dec. 6/5: Each man had glorious recollections of the last glorious bust on the fields.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Aug. 15/4: The old diggers of the class ‘Tamumu’ describes, resent the Australians a heap, and scorn them as brutes who want to make money out of the game instead of being satisfied, like them, with a living and ’baccy and an occasional bust-up to celebrate striking a patch.
[US]J. London John Barleycorn (1989) 152: A wild band of revolutionists invited me as the guest of honor to a beer bust.
[Aus]Truth (Melbourne) 31 Jan. 11/2: A periodical ‘bust’ does a man no end of good, shakes his liver up, and he is all the better for it.
[UK]Marvel 15 May 4: There’s no bill to pay. Have a regular bust-up while you’re about it. What about some more cherry pie?
[UK]E. Waugh Vile Bodies 128: I’m going to come back to England and have a real old bust.
[US]Chicago Daily News 21 Oct. 4/1: You don’t exactly figure that a display of gold sequins and flesh-colored foundations at a Hollywood bust is exactly a contribution toward winning the war [DA].
[US]L. Uris Battle Cry (1964) 306: I’ve had him in camp for two weeks [...] I suppose he’s entitled to a bust.
[US](con. 1920s) J. Thompson South of Heaven (1994) 110: Do you remember that big bust we went on in Dallas?
[UK]P. Theroux Kowloon Tong 87: ‘Must celebrate properly’ was all he said, but Bunt knew what he meant: a bust, a blow-out, a knees-up, more.

(b) (US campus) an exciting, good experience or event.

[US]Eble Campus Sl. Fall 2: bust – happy, wonderful occurrence: That concert Saturday night was a bust.

4. a physical ‘explosion’.

(a) a blow, a punch [bust v.1 (5b)].

implied in take a bust at
[US]H. Roth Call It Sleep (1977) 268: Yea, an’ a bust onna beezer!
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 20: I got two dollars an hour, plus a bust in the jaw from the law every now and then.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Mama Black Widow 184: I wish I had gotten a bloody nose or a bust in the mouth.
[US]J. Wambaugh Glitter Dome (1982) 16: Babycakes gives Daddy a bust in the mouth and a crack in the teeth.
[Aus]Penguin Bk of More Aus. Jokes 21: ‘Would you like a bust in the gob?’ she snarled. ‘Oh, you mind-reader, you!’ he smiled.

(b) (US black) an orgasm [bust v.1 (7c)].

[US]W. King ‘The Game’ in King Black Short Story Anthol. (1972) 302: The stud is a maniac for broads [...] let them come, Mac’ll make them quicker than Speedy Gonzales. And they knock him out. I ain’t jiving. I mean he passes out after a bust. Out. O-U-T. Like Liston when Cassius hit him upside the head.

5. (US) a false piece of information.

[US]F. Brown Fabulous Clipjoint (1949) 114: They can find Reynolds easier than we can if the ’phone number is a bust.

6. see burst n.1

7. see burst n.2

In compounds

bustman (n.)

(Aus.) a burglar, a house-breaker.

[Aus]K. Tennant Joyful Condemned 23: ‘Morton the bustman!’ Rene sneered. ‘Listen to him big-note himself. He’s going to do a bust.’ [Ibid.] 39: Jake, who was much more intelligent, and therefore a better ‘bustman’, could plan.
[Aus]R. Aven-Bray Ridgey-Didge Oz Jack Lang 21: Bust Man House breaker.
[Aus]Smith & Noble Neddy (1998) 234: There were shoplifters, armed robbers, bust men [professional burglars] – there was someone from nearly every type of crime drinking there.
[Aus]B. Matthews Intractable [ebook] [T]he professional armed robbers, the rapists, the bust men and the car thieves who all [...] took over the Sydney crime scene.
bust-out (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

do a bust (v.)

1. (UK Und.) to break into a house.

[UK]Mirror of Life 20 Apr. 6/4: Burglars who have retired from business and given up ‘turning over drums’ and ‘doing busts’ delight in giving their experiences.
[UK]Daily Tel. 14 Dec. in Ware (1909) 111/2: Redfern and his mate told him they were ‘going to do a bust’, meaning a robbery.
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era.
[UK]E. Jervis 25 Years in Six Prisons 25: I went to a ‘boozer’ (public-house) and got tiddley, and did another ‘bust’ (burglary).
[UK]G. Ingram Cockney Cavalcade 34: I was going to do a ‘bust’ with him to-morrow.
[UK]J. Maclaren-Ross Swag, the Spy and the Soldier in Lehmann Penguin New Writing No. 26 40: He’d done a bust, burgled the amusement park.
[Aus]K. Tennant Joyful Condemned 23: ‘Morton the bustman!’ Rene sneered. ‘Listen to him big-note himself. He’s going to do a bust.’.
[Aus]B. Ellem Doing Time 187: bust: steal or thieve; to do a bust.

2. (Aus. Und.) to escape (from prison).

[Aus]S.J. Baker in Sun. Herald (Sydney) 8 June 9/5: Other English incorporations [in Australian slang] include: [...] ‘do a bust,’ break out of gaol.
[Aus]G. Seal Lingo 50: Other terms that remained fairly firmly in the little lingo of the crims included do a bust, to escape from custody; darbies for handcuffs [...] and copper’s nark, meaning a police informer.
go in for a bust (v.) (also go a bust)

to spend extravagantly.

[Aus]J.S. Borlase Blue Cap, the Bushranger 41/1: The rowdy bushman who had just had his year’s wages paid him [...] was going in for a ‘bust’.
Marshall Pomes 65: I’m resolv’d, do’t you see, to go in for a bust / On the forthcoming Derby [F&H].
[UK]E. Garnett Family from One End Street 145: Mr Ruggles opened his eyes wide at this piece of extravagance. ‘Three papers! you have been going a bust!’ he said.
on a bust

1. (also on a buster, on a burster) drinking heavily.

K. Yeoman 2 Jan. 4/3: I’ll pay—d——n the expense I say, when a fellow is on a bust [DA].
[US]Bartlett Dict. Americanisms 57: buster, or bust. A frolic, a spree. ‘They were on a buster, and were taken up by the police.’.
W. Colton Three Years in Calif. 290: You had some trouble with me in Monterey; I was on a burster [DA].
[US] ‘How Sally Hooter Got Snake-Bit’ in T.A. Burke Polly Peablossom’s Wedding 67: Mike Hooter, made another visit to town last week, an’ being, as he supposed, beyond the hearing of his brethren in the church [...] concluded that he would go on a ‘bust.’.
[US] ‘Prospecting Dream’ in Lingenfelter et al. Songs of the Amer. West (1968) 93: John Chinaman he bought me out, and pungled down the dust, / Then I had just an ounce in change to start out on a ‘bust’.
[US]C.H. Smith Bill Arp 21: Me and the boys started last May to see you personally [...] but we got on a bust in old Virginia, about the 21st of July.
[US]Schele De Vere Americanisms 216: When the Western man is not dry, he is accused of being apt to be on a bust, as they call, in California, a great drinking-bout, accompanied with dancing and gambling, or as the West generally says [...] on a buster.
[US]Burlington (IA) Hawk Eye 23 Aug. 5/2: ‘Oh, dear William was upon — a neck last night.’ ‘A what?’ said her interlocutor [...] ‘A – a – a b-bust!’ she whispered behind her napkin.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Jan. 3/4: Two or three nobblers are said to render the doctor a lunatic, and when he got on a ‘bust,’ on rum, he was particularly rum-bustical.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 10 Dec. 12: [pic. caption] a self-feeder on a bust / How a New York Small Boy Helped the Parlor Stove Go on a Spree and broke Up his Sister’s Courtship.
[NZ]N.Z. Observer (Auckland) 29 Jan. 195/1: The waxwork model [...] of the professional beauty, Mrs. Langtry, still keeps on the turn in Longuet's window. A person remarked the other day that ‘Mrs. Langtry must be on the “bust” as she was always rolling round’.
[Aus]Bulletin Reciter 1880–1901 143: He went out on a bust one time, an’ when the devils come / He scooted for the plain with ’arf a yard o’ Hogans’ rum.
[UK]G.M. Hewett Rat 190: He goes on the bust at once, so to speak, and flicks his tail about, and stands on his hind legs, and eats something that he was never meant to eat.
[US]F. Hutchison Philosophy of Johnny the Gent 6: [T]he dame payin’ more attention to him than if he was some millionaire out on a bust.
[Can]R. Service ‘Quatrains’ Songs of a Sourdough 46: Heredity has got us in a cinch – (Consoling thought when you’ve been on a ‘bust’.).
[UK]Kipling ‘The Janeites’ Debits and Credits (1926) 173: ‘Goes on a bust, d’you mean?’ ‘’Im! He’s no more touched liquor than ’e ’as women since ’e was born.’.
[US]Judge (NY) 91 July-Dec. 31: On a bust - on a drunk.
[US]A. Hardin ‘Volstead English’ in AS VII:2 87: Terms referring to the state of intoxication: On a bust.
[Aus](con. WWI) L. Mann Flesh in Armour 140: ‘The chap who looked as if he’d been on the bust?’.

2. failing, doing badly.

[US]N.Y. Times 27 Mar. 12/2: This is a workman ‘on a bust,’ whose money has given out.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Gentlemen, the King!’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 163: It looks as if I am on a bust.

3. (US) enthusiastically, to a great extent.

[US]C.G. Leland ‘Breitmann in Politics’ in Hans Breitmann About Town 47: Dis fetch das Haus like doonder / It raised der teufel’s dust, / Und for sefen-lefen minudes / Dey ooplauded on a bust.

4. in fig. use of sense 1, going to extremes, ‘living it up’.

[UK]Sporting Times 4 Oct. 1/1: The British Association can go on a big dead head bust around Canada.
[US]O.O. McIntyre New York Day by Day 29 Jan. [synd. col.] Style is on a bust. Shirts [...] are ‘ragging the spectrum.’.
on the bust

1. (Aus./UK) on a spree.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Aug. 18/1: Here lies a father gone to dust; / He got on but couldn’t get ‘off the bust.’ / At first his loss was a sad, sad blow, / But we’ve two cups in the family now.
[UK]Sporting Times 20 Mar. 1/2: ‘Now he will never be able to finish it [i.e. an order of drinks] and I shall have to go on the bust myself’.
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 3 May 1/3: Early Bird was out on the bust the other night, and 6 o’clock next morning found him keeping up the lamp-post outside a pub.
[UK]Sporting Times 25 Jan. 6/3: During the few weeks of cold weather that Calcutta goes on the bust it does it thoroughly.
[US]P. White West End 154: When the ‘exam’s’ over he means to ‘go on the bust!’.
[UK]B. Pain De Omnibus 98: Yer ’as ter deal with same young rip fur sneakin’ yer cash and goin’ on the bust with it.
[Scot]‘Ian Hay’ Lighter Side of School Life 211: When he went up for his exam, he went on the bust the night before.
[Aus]G.H. Lawson Dict. of Aus. Words And Terms 🌐 BUST, ON THE—To run wild.
[Aus]K.S. Prichard Haxby’s Circus 239: Local hotel and store-keepers knew the ways of shearers on the bust.
[NZ]F. Sargeson ‘White Man’s Burden’ in A Man And His Wife (1944) 15: He told me he was keeping strictly off the hops. If you once went on the bust in a place like this it was good-bye McGinnis, he said.

2. facing financial problems, bankruptcy.

[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 739: Imbray is on the bust and his stocks won’t go up?
— or bust

an intensifier, suggesting that a failure to accomplish something will lead to disaster.

[UK]H.G. Wells Hist. of Mr Polly (1946) 29: I mean to have a crowd or bust!
[US](con. 1908) E. Lynn Adventures of a Woman Hobo 65: ‘Whither away?’ he queried. ‘California or bust,’ yelled Dan.
[Aus]Kia Ora Coo-ee 15 May 14/3: I’ll bet with Peter or with Nick he’ll have a little joke; / He simply has to smile or bust, he’s just that kind of bloke.
[UK]Rover 18 Feb. 5: ‘Gid up, Hopalong,’ Happy said. ‘It’s Toronto now or bust.’.
[US]Simon & Burns Corner (1998) 316: With Ronnie gone, Gary figures it’s Baker Street or bust.
[UK]Guardian 6 July 23/1: Sometimes people said it is EDF or bust.
stick a bust (v.) [ext. use of stick v. (3)]

(UK Und.) to commit a burglary.

[UK]Daily Tel. 28 Dec. in Ware (1909) 234/1: Mr Paul Taylor: What were his exact words? Witness: I am going to ‘stick a bust.’ Mr Paul Taylor: What does that mean? Detective-sergeant Fitzgerald: Commit a burglary.
take a bust at (v.)

(US) to hit (with the fist).

[US]W.R. Burnett Little Caesar (1932) 230: You think I’m gonna let a guy take a bust at me?