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Blockbuster

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Blockbuster

Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Jun 12, 2013 10:42 pm

• blockbuster •


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 a 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 (No. 2 above). Blockbusting in this sense is a 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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Re: Blockbuster

Postby Perry Lassiter » Wed Jun 12, 2013 11:59 pm

Yes, I clearly remember in WW2 blockbusters were in the news. Several times over the yeaqrs I've seen pictures illustrating that German cities were flattened as bad a Hiroshima with blockbusters instead of the atom bomb. Of course it took only one bomb, and Europe didn't get the radioactivity.

I believe that today's most current use came from the bombs, comparing a broadway hit or a bestseller to hitting the market like a bomb exploding.

Probably #2 came from a pun on the bomb. A black family moves into a neighborhood for the first time, and white families strt moving out. The newbies have "busted up" the block.
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Re: Blockbuster

Postby bnjtokyo » Thu Jun 13, 2013 4:41 am

I was playing around with the nGram Viewer trying to find early examples of "block buster" and found the following quote, "In fact the urban decay of Northwest Roanoke is primarily due to the 'block buster' and 'white flight' flight of the 1940’s."
The nGram Viewer says this quote is from History of Roanoke County by George S. Jack and Edward Boyle Jacobs published in 1912. But the plain text clearly contradicts the 1912 date. We now know we cannot rely on the dates provided by the Ngram Viewer to establish first use of a word or expression. And that is too bad because it is otherwise a useful tool.
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