Thursday, November 13, 2014

Language of Confusion: Busted

Today’s post brought to you by me wondering where the word robust comes from.

Bust is weird because there are actually two versions of the word that aren’t related at all. First, there’s a bust like a sculpture (which is also the one that refers to a woman’s chest, for some reason). That bust showed up in the late seventeenth century from the French buste, which of course just means bust. Before that, it was the Italian busto, which means bust but also the upper body. Of course it also comes from Latin, the classical Latin bustum, which means torso as well as the ashes from a funeral pyre (isn’t that cheery : ).

So that’s one particular usage of bust. But what about when you say, “That engine is busted.” or “I’m going to bust that guy’s nose!”? It showed up in the mid eighteenth century meaning frolic or spree, and then morphed into the bust we know it as a century later. And it turns out that bust isn’t related to the other bust at all. In fact, it’s actually the word burst without the r, I’m not even kidding. Have you ever wondered why the British and Australians say arse while Americans say ass? Turns out it’s because our ass just lost the r (and the word for donkey isn’t related to the word for buttno fooling). And much like ass, burst also lost an r, even though we kept the original word around, too.

We also have the word combust. It showed up in the late fourteenth century, meaning it predates both busts. It comes from the Old French combust and classical Latin combustus, which means char or consume. It comes from the word comburere, burning. It’s a mix of the prefix com-, just an intensive in this case, and burere, which is the word amburere (char) without the am. Even further back, amburere comes from urere, cauterize, a descendent of the Proto Indo European eus, to burn. Did you follow all that? Basically, combust = com + burere, burere = amburere – am, and amburere = amb + burere. Because it’s not linguistics if it isn’t overly complicated. And it’s not related to bust at all.

So what about the word that started me on this whole mess? Well, I bet you’ll be just shocked to hear that robust has nothing to do with any of these words. It showed up in the mid sixteenth century, from the Middle French robuste and classical Latin robustus, strong. It’s a figurative word, meaning “strong as an oak”. See, robustus comes from robur, which can mean strength or oak and ruber, red. Basically, robust means robust because oaks are strong and red.

TL;DR: Robust, combust, and two forms of bust have nothing to do with one another.



  1. Where does bust a move fit into all that?

  2. LOL - Alex...

    The English language baffles me sometimes.

  3. I bet there is a relation between combust and bust, since one is the fire and the other is the ash.

  4. A root word for torso and a funeral pyre. Go figure.

  5. Perhaps the sculpture bust means that that's where it ends. I don't know, that's what popped into my head.

  6. And to combine both examples there's: "Bust a cap in your arse (ass)!" I think 'bust' is a fun word to use it's pretty versatile, I think I'll try to work it into my NaNo scene today. :D

  7. I always learn so much from these word posts of yours :)

    I wish you a wonderful weekend!!


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