noun Informal.

a separation or dissolution, as of a marriage or a close friendship.
a large party, especially a noisy one.
Chiefly British. a quarrel; disturbance; punch-up.

Origin of bust-up

First recorded in 1840–50; noun use of verb phrase bust up



verb (used without object)

  1. to burst.
  2. to go bankrupt.
  3. to collapse from the strain of making a supreme effort: She was determined to make straight A's or bust.
  1. Draw Poker.to fail to make a flush or straight by one card.
  2. Blackjack.to draw cards exceeding the count of 21.

verb (used with object)

  1. to burst.
  2. to bankrupt; ruin financially.
to demote, especially in military rank or grade: He was busted from sergeant to private three times.
to tame; break: to bust a bronco.
  1. to place under arrest: The gang was busted and put away on narcotics charges.
  2. to subject to a police raid: The bar has been busted three times for selling drinks to minors.
  1. to hit.
  2. to break; fracture: She fell and busted her arm.


a failure.
Informal. a hit; sock; punch: He got a bust in the nose before he could put up his hands.
a sudden decline in the economic conditions of a country, marked by an extreme drop in stock-market prices, business activity, and employment; depression.
  1. an arrest.
  2. a police raid.
Informal. a drinking spree; binge.
  1. a very weak hand.
  2. Bridge.a hand lacking the potential to take a single trick.


Informal. bankrupt; broke.

Verb Phrases

bust up, Informal.
  1. to break up; separate: Sam and his wife busted up a year ago.
  2. to damage or destroy: Soldiers got in a fight and busted up the bar.

Origin of bust

1755–65; variant of burst, by loss of r before s, as in ass2, bass2, passel, etc.
Can be confusedburst burst (see usage note at the current entry)

Usage note

Historically bust is derived from a dialect pronunciation of burst and is related to it much as cuss is related to curse. Bust is both a noun and a verb and has a wide range of meanings for both uses. Many are slang or informal. A few, as “a decline in economic conditions, depression,” are standard.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for bust up




the chest of a human being, esp a woman's bosom
a sculpture of the head, shoulders, and upper chest of a person

Word Origin for bust

C17: from French buste, from Italian busto a sculpture, of unknown origin



verb busts, busting, busted or bust

to burst or break
to make or become bankrupt
(tr) (of the police) to raid, search, or arrestthe girl was busted for drugs
(tr) US and Canadian to demote, esp in military rank
(tr) US and Canadian to break or tame (a horse, etc)
(tr) mainly US to punch; hit
bust a gut See gut (def. 9)


a raid, search, or arrest by the police
mainly US a punch; hit
US and Canadian a failure, esp a financial one; bankruptcy
a drunken party


go bust to become bankrupt

Word Origin for bust

C19: from a dialect pronunciation of burst



a quarrel, esp a serious one ending a friendship, etc
British a disturbance or brawl

verb bust up (adverb)

(intr) to quarrel and part
(tr) to disrupt (a meeting), esp violently
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for bust up



1690s, "sculpture of upper torso and head," from French buste (16c.), from Italian busto "upper body," from Latin bustum "funeral monument, tomb," originally "funeral pyre, place where corpses are burned," perhaps shortened from ambustum, neuter of ambustus "burned around," past participle of amburere "burn around, scorch," from ambi- "around" + urere "to burn." Or perhaps from Old Latin boro, the early form of classical Latin uro "to burn." Sense development in Italian is probably from Etruscan custom of keeping dead person's ashes in an urn shaped like the person when alive. Meaning "bosom" is by 1884.



variant of burst (n.), 1764, American English. For loss of -r-, cf. ass (n.2). Originally "frolic, spree;" sense of "sudden failure" is from 1842. Meaning "police raid or arrest" is from 1938. Phrase ______ or bust as an emphatic expression attested by 1851 in British depictions of Western U.S. dialect. Probably from earlier expression bust (one's) boiler, by late 1840s, a reference to steamboat boilers exploding when driven too hard.



"to burst," 1806, variant of burst (v.); for loss of -r-, cf. ass (n.2). Meaning "go bankrupt" is from 1834. Meaning "break into" is from 1859. The slang meaning "demote" (especially in a military sense) is from 1918; that of "place under arrest" is from 1953 (earlier "to raid" from Prohibition). In card games, "to go over a score of 21," from 1939. Related: Busted; busting.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with bust up


In addition to the idioms beginning with bust

  • bust a gut
  • bust one's ass

also see:

  • break (bust) one's ass
  • go broke (bust)
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.