Bust, Burst, and Arrest
Yes, I know that just about everyone uses the word “bust” as a noun to mean “arrest” and as a verb to mean “arrested.”
Phoenix police discuss soured drug bust that killed Chandler officer
…a Merrill Lynch banker… was busted along with seven others yesterday for participating in an illegal game…
I know too that it’s common to use the word “bust” to mean “burst” or “break.”
Hurricanes roaring across the Gulf of Mexico create strong enough underwater waves to dig up and potentially bust open oil pipelines
Innovative Sound Device Could Bust Cancer Cells …
Holiday price stings could bust the family budget.
Commonly used or not, these uses always register as nonstandard with me. Colloquial, yes. Appropriate in some idioms, yes. Acceptable in a formal context, no.
The verb burst means “to break suddenly when in a state of tension.” Balloons burst. Bubbles burst. Burst means “to break the outer covering and discharge the matter.” Boils burst. Burst means to open out, to disperse. Flowers burst into bloom. Seed pods burst. We get wet from a sudden cloud burst. And, of course, undersea oil pipes burst. Undersea wells break or break down.
Used informally, the word bust is acceptable in certain idioms:
to bust a bronco (break a horse)
to go bust (to lose one’s money at gambling)
boom or bust (economic prosperity or failure)
drug bust (drug arrest, raid)
to bust (to arrest, or to be discovered in an illegal or disobedient act)
This deliberately playful headline about the discovery of a publicity hoax plays on two colloquial meanings of “bust” as a verb, “burst” and “found out as culpable”:
Balloon Boy Busted
In standard usage, bust is a noun with such meanings as
A piece of sculpture representing the head, shoulders, and breast of a person.
The upper front part of the human body; the bosom (esp. of a woman).
The measurement around a woman’s body at the level of her bust, usually measured in inches
My inability to accept “bust” as an unexceptionable synonym for “break” or “arrest” may be totally irrational. Nevertheless, whenever I hear it from the mouth of a news announcer, or see it used in the context of a formal news story, it strikes me as nonstandard and unnecessarily jarring.
Want to improve your English in five minutes a day? Get a subscription and start receiving our writing tips and exercises daily!
Keep learning! Browse the Misused Words category, check our popular posts, or choose a related post below:
Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!