Example with a context:

I heard a new song at the tavern the other day. Something about gin and wild women.
How'd it go?
Oh, I don't remember. I stuck five nickels in the box to hear it again and the thing busted down. You know me, I couldn't carry a tune in a bushel basket.

What does busted down mean? Something like broke down, I presume?

  • According to Longman dictionary it means that: 'to break something'
    – Ice Girl
    Dec 23, 2014 at 10:26
  • Consulted the 'answerable with dictionary' meta; Longman only defines the contextual example, by cursorily equating to another single word. The question asked for an explanation of a slang term, and in this case, the word has both nuanced connotation and denotation which is not conveyed by that dictionary answer. Particularly with slang terms, I think it important for ELL to be exposed to explanation by native speakers, because its meaning will not be found in a dictionary. Dec 24, 2014 at 3:52
  • Apologies, but another point perhaps worth mentioning: In the 'test question' cited in the original proposal on that meta, it was asked "what does X mean in this context," whereupon it became apparent it was a single sense of a dictionary definition. In asking about (esp.) a slang term, an example provides clarification of their current understanding, as a point of departure for answering. Particularly in the case of undocumented wordage, I think it would be well to err toward elucidating the fuller scope of meaning, in assuming that to be implied in asking about the definition generally Dec 24, 2014 at 4:17

1 Answer 1


Yes, it's generally synonymous with break down...in many of its forms, interestingly. It's extremely difficult to define, but here are some general hints about its usage, and a few examples.

The word busted is much more informal, though since it is used in this way fairly infrequently, it would be more accurate to call it slang. In most of its usages, busted is a very "blue collar" word, of the working class or dispossessed. To be honest it's fairly uncommon, and even a little "forced" in its slang (the word busted being too informal for most situations).

Busted is also much more emphatic, so something in a state of being busted down is in much greater distress/will be harder or take longer to recover from, or may be "stuck that way." For instance, to say a person's "broke down" usually means an unexpected delay caused by something less than catastrophic. But to be "busted down" in a particular place means things have gone seriously wrong and you may be stuck there. This is probably the meaning of the Doobie Brothers' song Busted Down Around O'Connelly Corners, or the similar phrase in Janis Joplin's Me & Bobby McGee: "Busted flat in Baton Rouge."

To bust down can also mean something like "smash down," or to demolish violently. One might say "The police busted down the door in a drug raid." And the Pearl Jam song State of Love and Trust contains the lyrics "State of love and trust/as I busted down the pretext/sin still plays and preaches/but to have an empty court." This song conveys general hopelessness, and the "pretexts" refer to assumptions or conditions in life that he tore down.

Busted down also has an idiosyncratic definition, meaning a demotion in rank. "The sargeant was busted down to a private for his misconduct."

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