phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at


Posted by Smokey Stover on September 07, 2004

In Reply to: Bust posted by Smokey Stover on September 07, 2004

: : : : Earlier Bruce Kahl created a thread headed 'busted'. That got me thinking about the various uses of the word. Because his thread was taking a very clear and serious direction I didn't want to digress too much on his topic, hence the new thread.

: : : : This query is to ask why someone's breasts are called a bust. Or why someone's chest is called a bust (eg. sculptures from the chest up).

: : : : Any clues?

: : : It's from the French 'buste' or Italian 'busto'. It has nothing to do with 'bust' meaning broken, which is a corruption of the word 'burst'.

: : : DFG

: : Going back a bit further the Ancient Romans had a word for "tomb" which was tumbus -a -um which looks like it hopped around for a while to Italian and became "busto".
: : And the keeper or maintainer of the tomb has a job title of "tumbarius". Cool

: : I can't think of anything English or Romantic that emerged from the keeper's job.

: In the time allotted, I was unable to find out why a head-and-shoulders sculture is a bust, or the front of the chest is called a bust, but it is clear that bust meaning a part of female anatomy is a euphemism, a way of not saying something like udder or teats as applied to, say, cows. How about bosom? Hardly a technical word in anatomy. In the Romance languages, the preferred euphemism for the "breast" (the preferred English-language euphemism for one of the pair, I think) seems to be some derivative of L*t*n sinus, meaning curve, such as "sein" (French) or "seno" (Italian). Then there are the words for the garment holding up or supporting the breasts, of which our "bra" comes, of course, from "brassiere," mere mention of which made my good old Dad blush. Nowadays I think the French say "soutien-gorge." I can't at the moment locate my German dictionary, and my Italian dictionary is too prudish to list the word. Males who are not in mixed company often call the breasts by their correct English name, and I have noticed that some very modern girls will actually say, in mixed company and even knowing that they are being taped for television, the word "t i t s." Shockingly frank. That's probably something to admire, at least in some circumstances. SS

I was wrong about not being able to find out why a head-and-shoulders sculpture was called a bust. That's what the ancient Romans called a sepuchral monument of that description, as "bustum," later rendered in English as "busto," then "bust". SS