...or bust

Posted by Smokey Stover on January 06, 2006

In Reply to: ...or bust posted by Lewis on January 06, 2006

: : : : What does the phrase "...or bust" mean and where did originated from? As in, "California or bust!"

: : : I believe "bust" has this meaning:

: : : Main Entry: 4bust
: : : Variant(s): or bust·ed /'b&s-t&d/
: : : Function: adjective
: : : : BANKRUPT, BROKE Go bust.
: : : (Merriam-Webster online)

: : : Get to California or go broke trying. I'm not sure why it is "bust."

: : Bust is commonly used when playing cards - e.g. in Blackjack you go bust if your score is over 21. Pamela

: ...or bust?

: you mean "**** or bust" surely?
: being coy just isn't helpful.

: L

"California or bust" is the archetypical phrase, model for so many imitations. The Great Plains of the U.S. were struck, in the 1930's, with two catastrophes: drought and the Great Depression. So many dirt farmers were left with no dirt, just dust and debt, in the wind storms destroying their farms, that some of them headed west on Route 66 towards what they hoped would be greener pastures in California, the "Golden State". Some of them had signs "California or bust" on their shabby jalopies and trucks, loaded with their families and few possessions, as sometimes shown in newsreels. When they got there many were known as Okies, having started in Oklahoma. See Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" for more about the Okies and their trek. Not all of the Okies were lifted up once they reached California, and there are still pockets of people referred to as Okies by other Californians.

As for "bust," I suppose they meant they were going to bust their guts trying, and failure would be complete. At any rate, it was a popular slogan of the time, no longer in vogue. You could say, for instance, "No. 1 or bust." A similar phrase was "... or nothing," as in "complete success or nothing." Not being a popular historian I can't produce actual examples. SS