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BLOCKBUSTER

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BLOCKBUSTER

Postby Jeff hook » Thu Sep 13, 2007 6:58 pm

blockbuster

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Pronunciation: blahk-bê-stêr

Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning:

1. A stunning new and unexpected event or object that generates enormous sales or revenues.

2. (Offensive) An African American who moves into an all-white neighborhood.

3. A bomb with the explosive power to destroy an entire city block.

Notes: Today's Good Word started its life as two words, block buster, then was briefly hyphenated block-buster but now is a comfortable part of everyone's vocabulary as a single word, blockbuster. In its second and third senses, it is possible to create an action noun, blockbusting.

In Play: A blockbuster is something big but usually in a way that involves money: "The Harry Potter books represent the first blockbuster series in history making their author the first billion dollars." I suppose we all have dreams of producing a blockbuster at some stage of our lives: "Rhoda Book expects her exposé of Paris Hilton's secret religious life to be a blockbuster bestseller."

Word History: Several dictionaries and websites suggest that the primary meaning (No. 1 above) of today's Good Word is a product of 'blockbusting' of the 60s. Blockbusting in this sense is a racist term referring to the loss of equity in the houses in a city block when blacks move into an all-white neighborhood. The problem with this explanation is that Time Magazine ran an article on September 14, 1942 with the following use: "Inside a sturdy observation tower a mile from the exploding block busters which the Army is now testing." These blockbusters were bombs capable of destroying an entire city block. It is now clear that meaning (3) above came first and meanings (2) and (1) were based directly on it.

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BLOCKBUSTER

Postby Jeff hook » Thu Sep 13, 2007 7:09 pm

I'd always suspected this related to the "busting" of an engine "block." Does anyone have etymological information about such an origin?

Jeff Hook
NJ, USA
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Postby sluggo » Thu Sep 13, 2007 7:51 pm

Not directly but it seems mechanical discussion would be a bit too outside the mainstream to give birth to a general word. Having experienced a couple of these, I'd thought the verb in use was blow, as in "blow an engine".

The bomb derivation for blockbuster makes most sense to me. I've actually never heard of Doc's #2 before now.
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BLOCKBUSTER

Postby Jeff hook » Thu Sep 13, 2007 8:15 pm

Me neither on the "real estate" definition. It's nasty.

I should "get a grip" on this forum today, and I'll be prying myself from the PC anon, but here are some thoughts which relate to that evil concept:

1. I'm not trying to be "holier than thou" with respect to racism, but I want to oppose it, just as I want to oppose environmental degradation. Yes, it might be best to exclude some topics from "normal discourse with strangers," and these may be two of them, but I really think our overall existence is too precarious now to avoid some of these topics, which I regard as critical.

2. The so-called "N-word" has been in the news recently, due to its use in Rap lyrics. I think the NAACP recently held a "funeral" for the word. Recent news suggests that some commentators believe some such words simply *shouldn't* be used.

3. This definition of "blockbuster" is not only "news to me," as you say it is to you, but it relates to a premise which I regard as invalid, or at least as shameful. The arrival of African Americans in a neighborhood *shouldn't* depress property values. If it does, such a decline in market values results from "distress sales" due to "white flight," and doesn't that only result from RACISM? Our communities should be *integrated,* and we all *lose* if they *aren't.*

4. Are we abetting racist clap-trap even by accepting such usage of this word, at least by accepting such a noxious meaning without treating it like toxic waste, and calling much attention to its moral implications? I fear we do, because I fear that acceptance of this meaning without comment, much less without objection, suggests that the loss of "fair market value" *does* result from such integration of neighborhoods, that it *should* occur, and that it may always occur... I don't think labelling such a meaning as "offensive" "does the trick."

Life is short. I think we should speak up when we can.

Jeff Hook
**East Orange**, NJ, USA

(My mother's ancestor, Daniel Dodd, surveyed this part of the Puritan colony of "New Ark on ye Pesayack River" at age 29 in March of 1678. (The colony roughly occupied the area of the current Essex County. Its only settlement was then at the center of the present city of Newark.} My ancestor noticed the deep silt soil here, and he claimed farming land in this portion of the colony, which much later became the City of East Orange. This section of the city is still known as "Doddtown." This all makes me a "white guy" in a city which is now more than 96% "minority," "just so you know where I'm comin' from..." I ain't perfect, by any means, but I really don't like racism, in any form, in myself, or in anyone else... Moral people of good will may disagree about this topic, but we might want to think/speak about this.)
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Postby Bailey » Fri Sep 14, 2007 12:53 pm

Ok, let me get this straight, so in the interests of multi-ethnic harmony we should change history?

Since few if any of us word-freaks knew of it's one definition, does it's inclusion rate a racial-cleansing? Just a thought.

mark not-dying-on-this-cross-just-wondering Bailey

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Postby sluggo » Fri Sep 14, 2007 1:01 pm

Agreed. Words represent ideas and we don't wipe out the idea by turning our collective back on the word. The fact that the racial denotation was unfamiliar is something we can infer as a positive sign and move on.
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Postby gailr » Fri Sep 14, 2007 1:54 pm

Jeff, your heart is in the right place on this, and you added your POV to a pertinent post. That said, banning disturbing words has no impact on the underlying attitudes that give rise to them. (On a related note, consider the various 'wars' declared on words in our lifetimes: on poverty, on drugs, on terrorism. Instilling knee-jerk fear of a word neither addresses nor eliminates the complexities that word describes.)

Censorship of difficult words and difficult ideas usually signals trouble. Yet, without some degree of self-censorship, there is no civil discourse. Finding the balance between freedom to express oneself and freedom from the self-expression of others is at the bottom of every political debate, anywhere, anytime.

The active posters on this board enjoy exploring unfamiliar and unexpected words, meanings, and archaic meanings. Language expresses ideas, and not all ideas are comical. It's OK to be reminded of that.

-gailr

ps: Jeff, you're blowing through your 2007 allotment of quotation marks pretty fast, dude. :wink:
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Postby Bailey » Fri Sep 14, 2007 7:42 pm

I keep thinking about our utopian future when we all finally get those hover cars and we are no longer sex-crazed and cash-obsessed and we look [ok the we here are our future progeny] back and tsk tsk on the archaic and insane values our 'ancestors' had and ponder whether or not we should purge such words as avariciousness, cupidity, avarice, and covetousness because we no longer have that mindset. I'm sure this concept will be as foreign to our children as is racism, accepted and encouraged was in the1800's, has become now.

To Judge a culture by present standards is unfair, the prevailing thought was just different then.


I'm not singling you out Jeff, I've just been giving this some thought of late. I've read extensively from antiquated texts and have immersed myself ~as much as a chimp of little brain can~in past thought, and ideas. I'm talking about real old texts, not recent ones trying to look old with an overlay of modern mores on it, feminism, anti-racism, progress uber allus devoid writings. You know the ones I mean with archaic language and formal speech patterns; very elaborate and use of way too many words to convey a simple thought.

mark prithee-kind-sir Bailey

gailr wrote:ps: Jeff, you're blowing through your 2007 allotment of quotation marks pretty fast, dude. Hahaha
never you mind on that score Jeffy, I do the same thing. use all you want, go into "" debt, I do.

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Postby Perry » Fri Sep 14, 2007 10:36 pm

Having lived through the sixties, I was familiar with the definition 2, and its negative connotations.

My thoughts are: 1) I agree that it is a good sign that many do not remember this sense of the word. 2) Learning this sense of the word does not encourage its use in this manner, but it does help those previously unfamiliar with it to avoid inadvertantly using it in a context that offense may be taken.
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Postby Bailey » Sat Sep 15, 2007 3:10 pm

paragraph 2; so true Perry, good point

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