Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2004 / 27 Tishrei, 57645
Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
'Busted'; differences between 'iterate' and 'reiterate'; 'the rain has quite abated'
I have often wondered about the word "busted.'' I see it used in TV, plays, radio, newspapers, and books: someone is arrested by the police and the terminology used is "the person was busted'' or "there was a drug bust.'' I would like to know the origin of this term.
S.W., Columbia, N.J.
The verb "bust,'' meaning "to arrest,'' and the noun "bust,'' meaning "a police raid,'' both originated in American slang over 50 years ago. Their exact origins are not entirely clear, but we can make an educated guess about them by tracing the evolution of the older senses of "bust.''
"Bust'' has had many meanings. One of its earliest attested senses (dating back to 1860) is "to break or smash with force.'' From this literal use soon developed such figurative senses as "to bring an end to; break up'' ("trust-busting''), "to tame'' ("bronco-busting'') and "to demote'' ("busted him to buck private''). All of these senses retain some suggestion of breaking something apart or down.
The sense "to arrest'' may well have come directly from the "demote'' sense, which was standard in military use around the turn of the 20th century. The shared meaning is one of bringing someone down a notch, especially as a form of punishment. The noun "bust'' meaning "a police raid'' is apparently derived from the verb.
"Bust'' has long carried slang meanings connected with criminal activities. As early as 1859, it was used to mean "to rob a house.'' In more recent years it has also been used to mean "to inform on,'' and two new senses have recently arisen from the uses you noted: a sense of the noun meaning "an arrest'' ("they made the bust'') and a sense of the verb meaning "to raid'' ("they busted the apartment'').
I would like to know the origins and differences between the words "iterate'' and "reiterate.'' Perhaps it is just me, but it seems that "reiterate'' is the preference of most speakers. In fact, I cannot recall hearing "iterate'' used in a sentence. Why is this? Wouldn't you "iterate'' a subject prior to "reiterating'' it?
T. R., Hummelstown, Pa.
Dear T. R.:
You're not the first person to have wondered about the "re-'' of "reiterate.'' A number of usage commentators have noticed that the word has a kind of built-in redundancy. The rarely used "iterate'' (from the Latin "iterum,'' meaning "again'') itself means "to say or do again,'' so that it seems as if "reiterate'' ought to mean something like "to re-say or re-do again.'' A few commentators have actually objected to using "reiterate'' when referring to a first repetition, saying, as you suggest, that it's necessary first to iterate something before reiterating it.
But other commentators recognize that such a restriction does not reflect actual usage. Both "iterate'' and "reiterate'' are used essentially as synonyms of "repeat,'' with the chief distinction between them being the one you've noted - that "reiterate'' is the far more common word.
"Reiterate,'' which was first recorded in 1526, does sometimes convey the idea of many repetitions, but more often it is distinguished from such common verbs as "repeat'' and "restate'' by connotations of forcefulness and emphasis: "The senator reiterated his stand against the proposed legislation.'' "Iterate,'' on the other hand, is a decidedly bookish word that seems to be little used except in mathematical and technical writing. It was first recorded at almost exactly the same time as "reiterate,'' in 1533.
When asked about the weather, I have frequently used the sentence "The rain has quite abated.'' I always thought that it was Thomas Babington Macaulay who said it. Now a former colleague claims the expression is "The pain has quite abated,'' and has nothing to do with the weather but refers to a toothache! Can you help?
F. J., Newark, N.J.
Dear F. J.:
Actually, you're both wrong, but your colleague is closer to the truth. In 1804, when Thomas Babington Macaulay was 4 years old and at a neighbor's house, a servant spilled hot coffee on his legs. A little later, when asked by the hostess how he was feeling, he is said to have replied "Thank you, madam, the agony is abated.''
This anecdote is often cited in biographies of Macaulay to demonstrate his precociousness. In an introduction to "Macaulay's Essay on Lord Clive,'' Eugene D. Holmes writes, "Almost his first utterances evinced a quite unusual power to command a ready and an apt use of words.''
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