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Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2004 / 27 Tishrei, 57645

Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary, Tenth Edition

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Consumer Reports

'Busted'; differences between 'iterate' and 'reiterate'; 'the rain has quite abated' | Dear Editor:

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.

Dear S.W.:

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'').

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Dear Editor:

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.

— — —

Dear Editor:

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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10/04/04: 'Hat trick', 'rubber game' or 'rubber match'; source of 'spin doctor'; 'trope'
09/22/04: ' Redux'; 'elan'; 'swan-neck'
09/08/04: 'Adam's apple'; 'You sure lucked out'; 'the lion's share'
09/02/04: 'King's shilling'; 'Stockholm syndrome'; 'amid the alien corn'
08/24/04: Guacamole = avocados?; 'bona fides' needs plural verb?; 'exact same' redundant?
08/17/04: 'Nosey parker'; where the question mark came from?; why 'wash' doesn't rhyme with 'cash'
08/12/04: 'Vexillologist'; 'fifth column'; 'Homer sometimes nods'
08/05/04: 'Spitting image'; 'eclectic'; 'spendthrift'
07/28/04: 'Trousers'; 'argosy'
07/19/04: 'Sourdough wit'; 'headshrinkers'; 'seventh heaven'
07/08/04: 'The proof is in the pudding'; 'Pyrrhic victory'
07/01/04: Origin of 'vitamin'; 'binnacle list'
06/25/04: 'Abnegate' and 'abdicate'; 'feet of clay'; 'difugalty'
06/17/04: 'Whinge'; 'whole cloth'
06/10/04: 'The devil to pay'; 'crack', as in 'a crack marksman'; 'the dog that didn't bark'
06/03/04: 'Surrounded on three sides'; sleuths
05/18/04: 'Of the first water'; horses and horseradish; more
05/06/04: 'Historic' v. 'historical'; 'prestigious' = 'trickery'?; 'can of corn' as sports phrase
04/27/04: Derivation of 'bozo'; 'elt'; 'spill the beans'
04/21/04: Meaning of "budget'' in the word "fussbudget''; "bleeding hearts''; "skycap''
04/01/04: "Thin red line''; "doak"; "level playing field"
03/22/04: "King Canute"; "vodka"; "Cheese it. The cops!''
03/16/04: "Carrot and stick''; "hue and cry''; Where did the term "flea market'' originate?
03/09/04: Going "haywire"; "close, but no cigar"; "mahatma"
03/01/04: "Roundheel'' and "well-heeled''; "milquetoast"; "sick as a dog''
02/26/04: "Charley horse"; "`Foolproof''; "cracker-barrel''
02/17/04: "Dunce''; titles "Mr.'' and "Mrs.''; "under the weather''
02/10/04: "Turnpike''; "dead reckoning''
02/02/04: "Mutt"; "lobby" in its political sense; "procrustean bed"
01/27/04: "Decimate"; "duende"; a dessert "junket"?
01/14/04: Is "MacGuffin" related to all the "Mac" and "Mc" words we've been hearing about recently?; "afghans" and "Afghans"; "since Hector was a pup"
01/09/04: Confused about the word "hearsay"; "Burgle"; "waiting in line" or "waiting on line"?
12/31/03: The past tense of "plead''; Is "old adage'' redundant?; Where did "lounge lizard'' come from?
12/15/03: "Ostracize" and "oyster''?; Where does the "mentor'' come from?; "jeopard''
12/02/03: "Karats'' and "carats'' — meaning of and difference between; why apostrophe in "'cello''?; "hell-bent for leather''
11/18/03: "Hoosegow,''; why the little finger is called the "`pinkie''; difference between "lady'' and "dame''
11/13/03: 'Take it on the lam'; 'decorum'; 'you look like the wreck of the Hesperus'
11/03/03: Origin of "hypnosis"/"hypnotism"; "all right" or "alright"; emote
10/28/03: "Blue plate special"; how to use "hoi polloi''; "Peck's Bad Boy''
10/20/03: Who was the person the artist who first used "silhouette" as an art form?; why are they called migraine headaches?; origin of "keep one's shirt on"
10/13/03: "Grey'' in "greyhound'' has nothing to do with the color?; "at loggerheads''
09/29/03: Where does the word "karaoke" comes from?; people or persons?; "synecdoche"
09/23/03: Using "eke'' correctly; fedora; why do we call an especially flattering biography a "hagiography''?
09/10/03: Why do we call a zero score in tennis "love''?; "biannual'' or "semiannual''?; Is there any difference between "further'' and "farther''?; dilemma of using "dilemma''
09/02/03: "Out loud'' rather than "aloud''; "pushing the envelope''; "without rhyme or reason''
08/25/03: "Cheesy''; "hold a candle''
08/11/03: "Halcyon days''; Why isn't "sacrilegious'' spelled "sacreligious''?; "red light'' and "green light'' as expression — which came first, the inaction or the signals?
08/04/03: "Votive'' candles; "cosmeticizing"; "potluck''
07/28/03: Why ‘debt’ has a ‘b’ in it; "south moon under''; why "Rx'' is used for prescriptions
07/21/03: "Romance" & "Rome"?; punching & clocks; "conversate"
07/14/03: "Lukewarm''; Where did we get the word "wig'' for a fake head of hair?
07/09/03: Why doesn't "Arkansas'' rhyme with "Kansas''? ; "Catawampus"; "Jimmie Higgins work"
06/30/03: "Foozle"; author who wrote an entire novel without using a certain letter of the alphabet?; "kith and kin"
06/23/03: "On the fritz"; "knuckle down''
06/17/03: How did "lazy Susan'' come to be used for the rotating tray?; woolgathering'' as synonym for "idle daydreaming''; "in harm's way''
06/09/03: "Clotheshorse"; a god named "Ammonia"?
05/29/03: With kid gloves; "receipt'' = "recipe''?; from soup to nuts

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