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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]


  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ʌstə(ɹ)


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, section 147:
      Now death, I pray thee what is it, but a buster of bonds; a destruction of toyle?
    • 2005, J. Madhavan, Sita & Forest Bandits, section 122:
      Rothlin was described... by the papers as the buster of the bandit ring.
  2. (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, section 70:
      Our main purpose in further experimentation with nuclear bombs is not... to make city-busters more horrible.
  3. (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.
      • 1964, John Hendrix, If I Can Do It Horseback: A Cow-Country Sketchbook, page 40:
        Some busters caught their horses for the first time over the head, and snubbed or choked them until they fell gasping.
    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, Times, N.Y, iv. 24/2:
        New York City traffic agents have become Gridlock Busters and cigarette foes are smokebusters.
  4. (dated, slang) Someone or something remarkable, especially for being loud, large, etc..
    • 1833 April, Parthenon, section 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, section 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, section 79:
        An extremely wealthy old buster.
      • 1986 February 27, Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes (comic):
        Calvin: I'm going to watch TV all night.
        Mom: That's what you think, buster!
      • 2001, S. MacKay, Fall Guy, ix. 113:
        ‘Careful, buster,’ she said. ‘I've got a knife in my hand.’
  5. (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, section 536:
      An 8oz. loaf of brown bread... goes by the name of ‘buster’, I suppose on account of the way they blow you out.
  6. (obsolete, slang) A drinking spree, a binge.
  7. (dated, slang) A gale, a strong wind; (especially 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, section 14:
      The Buster and Brickfielder: austral red-dust blizzard and red-hot Simoom.
    • 1991, J. Moore, By Way of Wind, section 121:
      When the barometer drops rapidly... watch out for a strong sou'wester. A buster can be on you in a flash.
  8. (Australia and New Zealand) A heavy fall; (also performing arts) a staged fall, a pratfall.
    • 1874 April, Baily's Monthly Magazine, section 114:
      Dainty... came down ‘a buster’ at the last hurdle, and Scots Grey cantered in by himself.
  9. (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, Times, N.Y, v. 4/6:
      Restaurant August... serves contemporary French cuisine prepared with Louisiana ingredients like buster crabs, shrimp and oysters.
  10. (gambling, slang) A cheat's die whose sides bear only certain combinations of spots, so that undesirable values can never be rolled.
    • 1961, John Scarne, Complete Guide to Gambling, page 283:
      Tops and Bottoms (also Tops, Busters, Ts, Mis-spots): These are the dice used by the professional cheats.
    • 1977, National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, The Development of the Law of Gambling: 1776-1976, page 423:
      To make six-eight, natural dice, or busters, he would take unspotted dice and then grind and color only the spots he wanted.

Related terms[edit]



  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. indefinite plural of buste