11

I saw the sentence

I cried fit to bust.

But I don't know how the word 'fit' works in the sentence above.

I'd like to know what part of speech is this, the word 'fit' in this sentence, and the meaning of the sentence above. Is bust a noun in the sentence above?
Would you like to tell me the answer?

  • It looks like a predicative adjunct to me where "fit" is an adjective with infinitival "to bust" as complement. So it's an idiom where "bust" means "burst". It's predicative because it refers to a predicand, in this case the subject "I". – BillJ Nov 13 '16 at 16:20
  • @BillJ I think that is definitely the origin of the construction, but in my dialect at least it has passed into an adverbial. – StoneyB Nov 13 '16 at 16:42
  • I suppose it depends on whether you see it as a manner adjunct (adverbial) or a predicative as in "I was fit to bust". – BillJ Nov 13 '16 at 16:51
4

fit there is a regional colloquialism. It is synonymous with the word ready.

You can say to a person who is overfilling a balloon:

That balloon is fit to bust.

meaning 'that balloon is ready to burst', or 'that balloon is about to burst'.

People also say "I was fit to be tied" meaning "I was so irate that I reached a state of insanity and needed to be restrained". It is a form of exaggeration.

  • 1
    A regionalism from where? – curiousdannii Nov 14 '16 at 5:30
  • fit used in this way (e.g. fit to bust) is associated with predominantly southern and rural dialects. It is not something you'd expect to come from the lips of a native of Boston, say, San Francisco, or Portland. That said, in the US there have been very large shifts of population, and so you could hear this and similar turns of phrase almost anywhere nowadays from speakers with a southern connection. Blacks from the south resettled north in the 20th century in what is known as the Great Migration, and many Anglo southerners had resettled to the southwest in the 19th century. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 14 '16 at 11:20
  • Just to be clear, the regional connection is not in phrases like "the water was not fit to drink" (where it means "suitable") but in turns of phrase where "fit to" has an aspectual sense, coloring the verb. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 14 '16 at 11:46
  • And, of course, I'm speaking of American English. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 14 '16 at 11:55
6

Fit to VERB in this case is a construction with the approximate meaning "to the point of VERBing". "I cried fit to bust" means "I cried so hard I almost burst", and you might encountered this in "I laughed fit to bust" or "He was mad fit to bust", meaning "I laughed so hard I almost burst" or "He was so angry he seemed like he would burst".

Bust here is a colloquial variant of burst. Other verbs may also occur in the construction.

Historically the construction derives from the adjective fit, "suitable, prepared" with the extended sense of "inclined" or "disposed", and it was at one time used predicatively; but the adjectival sense has long since evaporated from the construction, which is to the best of my knowledge now used only adverbially, and only in colloquial and dialect contexts. I wouldn't bother with any more granular syntactical analysis: this is a fixed construction.


Fit to VERB is also used with its ordinary adjectival sense "suitable for VERBing" or "suitable to be VERBen"; that use is standard, fit to employ in any register.

TRomano reminds us of fit to be tied used predicatively, so I've struck my hasty generalization. But I think the construction is adverbial far more often than adjectival.

  • It's hard to tell the dancer from the dance. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 13 '16 at 15:34
  • I don't think it's entirely a one-off fixed construction. To my mind, most of these written instances of looked set to cry would be just as acceptable (and mean exactly the same thing) if they'd used fit. It may be just a personal thing, but to me the fit version seems more colloquial / facetious. – FumbleFingers Nov 13 '16 at 16:36
  • @FumbleFingers With 'looked', sure, but She laughed set to burst? --it doesn't work for me. – StoneyB Nov 13 '16 at 16:40
  • Agreed - for the specific verb laugh it doesn't really work. Personally, I suspect the construction [verb] fit to [verb] is a relatively recent "quirky/folksy" usage that very often involves uncontrollable autonomous actions (laughed, sneezed) with exaggeratedly undesirable consequences (bust, die). But I can't help feeling it derives from / alludes to related earlier and probably (once) more mainstream versions involving set. – FumbleFingers Nov 13 '16 at 17:14
2

Laughing/crying/coughing fit to bust/burst:

  • laughing/crying etc a lot

"Fit" here is an adverb.

  • It can't be an adverb since adverbs don't take infinitival complements. – BillJ Nov 13 '16 at 16:14
  • 2
    @BillJ isn't "fit to burst" like an adverbial phrase? It tells us to what degree we laughed, cried, coughed, etc. "I ate fit to bust" means I ate until I felt myself bursting. Anyway, I upvoted this answer and Stoney. B's because they clearly show that "fit to bust" is a fixed expression. – Mari-Lou A Nov 13 '16 at 17:32
  • 1
    Yes, it could be an adjunct in clause structure if it is interpreted as describing the manner in (or degree to) which "I cried". But I think the more plausible interpretation is that is describing the subject "I", in which case it would be predicative, cf. "I cried until I was fit to bust", or simply "I was fit to bust", both clearly adjectival predicatives. The point about predicative adjuncts is that the predicative/non-predicative contrast cuts across that between complements and adjuncts (adverbials). – BillJ Nov 13 '16 at 18:11

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