• 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.