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Originally a dialectal variant of burster; later influenced by bust + -er.[1]

The combining form of the term has appeared from the early 20th century but been especially prolific during three periods: in the 1930s, owing to the success of the radio series Gang Busters; in the 1940s, owing to its appearance as military slang; and in the 1980s, owing to the success of the movie Ghostbusters.[2]



buster ‎(plural busters)

  1. (chiefly colloquial, with 'of') Someone who or something that bursts, breaks, or destroys a specified thing.
    • 1614, S. Jerome, Moses his Sight of Canaan, 147:
      Now death, I pray thee what is it, but a buster of bonds; a destruction of toyle?
    • 2005, J. Madhavan, Sita & Forest Bandits, 122:
      Rothlin was described... by the papers as the buster of the bandit ring.
    1. (chiefly military slang) Forming compounds denoting a team, weapon, or device specialized in the destruction of the first element.
      • 1940 September 2, Life, 29/1:
        German ‘balloon busters’ attack the Dover barrage.
      • 1958 February 10, Life, 70:
        Our main purpose in further experimentation with nuclear bombs is not... to make city-busters more horrible.
  2. (chiefly colloquial, with 'of') Someone who or something that 'breaks', tames, or overpowers a specified person or thing.
    1. (US, in particular, dated, slang) A broncobuster.
      • 1891 July, Harper's Magazine, 208/2
        The buster must be careful to keep well away from sheds and timber.
    2. (chiefly law enforcement slang) Forming compounds denoting an agent or agency tasked with reducing or eliminating the first element.
      • 1920, F. A. McKenzie, ‘Pussyfoot’ Johnson, v. 83:
        Men nicknamed him the ‘Booze Buster’, and cartoonists loved to picture him, revolver in hand,... fighting the demon rum.
      • 1974' July 4, New Scientist, 65/2:
        The professional fraud-busters [of the art world].
      • 1984 November 18, N.Y. Times, iv. 24/2:
        New York City traffic agents have become Gridlock Busters and cigarette foes are smokebusters.
  3. (dated, slang) Someone or something remarkable, especially for being loud, large, etc..
    • 1833 April, Parthenon, 293:
      ‘I had to clean this old roarer,’ continued the ‘editor’... as he wiped the barrel of his pistol. ‘She's a buster, I tell you.’
    • 2004 November 20, South Wales Echo, 9:
      What a buster of a lunch it turned out to be.
    1. (colloquial, variously expressing familiarity, admiration, or hostility) A form of address, particularly of men: guy, dude, fella, mack, buddy, loser. (Originally as 'old buster'.)
      • 1838 March 24, New Yorker, 4/1:
        That's generous, old buster.
      • 1919, P.G. Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves, 79:
        An extremely wealthy old buster.
      • 2001, S. MacKay, Fall Guy, ix. 113:
        ‘Careful, buster,’ she said. ‘I've got a knife in my hand.’
  4. (obsolete, slang) A loaf of bread.
    • 1835 September 16, Morning Post, 4/2:
      Three penny busters, and a whole kit-full of winegar and mustard.
    • 1904 June 8, Journal of the Department of Labour (New Zealand), 536:
      An 8oz. loaf of brown bread... goes by the name of ‘buster’, I suppose on account of the way they blow you out.
  5. (obsolete, slang) A drinking spree, a binge.
    • 1848, John Russell Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms:
      They were on a buster, and were taken up by the police.
    • 1922, James Joyce, Ulysses, 405:
      All off for a buster, armstrong, hollering down the street.
  6. (dated, slang) A gale, a strong wind; (chiefly Australia) a southerly buster.
    • 1848, John Russell Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms
      ‘This is a buster,’ i.e. a powerful or heavy wind.
    • 1886, Frank Cowan, Australia, 14:
      The Buster and Brickfielder: austral red-dust blizzard and red-hot Simoom.
    • 1991, J. Moore, By Way of Wind, 121:
      When the barometer drops rapidly... watch out for a strong sou'wester. A buster can be on you in a flash.
  7. (Australia and New Zealand) A heavy fall; (also performing arts) a staged fall, a pratfall.
    • 1874 April, Baily's Monthly Magazine, 114:
      Dainty... came down ‘a buster’ at the last hurdle, and Scots Grey cantered in by himself.
  8. (US, regional) A molting crab.
    • 1855 October 18, Henry A. Wise, letter in J.P. Hambleton's Biographical Sketch of Henry A. Wise (1856), 448:
      In that state he is called a ‘Buster’, bursting his shell.
    • 2002 January 6, N.Y. Times, v. 4/6:
      Restaurant August... serves contemporary French cuisine prepared with Louisiana ingredients like buster crabs, shrimp and oysters.

Derived termsEdit




  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "buster, n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2013.
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "-buster, comb. form" Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2013.




  1. plural indefinite of buste
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