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Old 02-18-2006, 09:18 PM
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Origin of modern meaning of "Blockbuster"

I believe (Correct me if I'm wrong) that this is the original meaning of the word blockbuster: When minorites were sold a house in an all white or an all Jewish neighborhood, these people were known as blockbusters. So how did the modern meaning of the word come about?
Old 02-18-2006, 09:23 PM
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That was one definition but I believe it cam later than the original meanings. Here is says that the term originated in WWII meaning bombs that could destroy whole blocks.. Advertsing picked up the word after that because it sounded impressive.
Old 02-18-2006, 09:26 PM
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What Wiki has to say on the subject:

"The etymology of the term is uncertain; some histories cite it as originally referring to a play that is so successful that competing theaters on the block are "busted" and driven out of business; others claim a derivation from the nickname of a type of World War II-era bomb capable of destroying an entire city block. Still others note that the term may stem from crowds of people that might flock to queue up for a hit play, perhaps stretching over several city blocks."

Certainly no mention of black or jewish families.
Old 02-18-2006, 09:47 PM
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When I looked this up recently (last week) in newspapers, the first uses were for bombs. Then the term was applied in sports, especially to football players and boxers who were very strong. Hedda Hopper started to use the term for movie stars in the 1950s as I found. She described Gale Storm as a "blockbuster star" and then later used the term for Grace Kelly.

It wasn't exactly rigorous research though.
Old 02-18-2006, 09:59 PM
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As a noun, it (seems to) have its origin in large aerial bombs of WWII capable of destroying an entire block. Oddly, bomber crews of the time called these devices 'cookies.'

As a verb, I heard the term 'to blockbust' in terms of a black family moving into a white neighborhood. This would induce the whites to all sell and so generate commissions for real estate people. I think it was mentioned by Flip Wilson in one of his routines.
Old 02-18-2006, 10:14 PM
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If there are any cites for the word "blockbuster" in any meaning before the 1942 bomb one, I have yet to find or see it.

I can find late in the same year the use of the word in the newspapers to mean a large item "Chief drops blockbuster on blackout violators."

As Bob T said, the mid 40's for sports figures.

It was applied to novels and movies in the mid-to late 1940's.

The real estate usage shows up around 1952.
Old 02-18-2006, 10:52 PM
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And while the word "blockbuster" may have been used, occasionally, regarding the real estate practice of promoting "white flight," the more common form was to refer to the act of "block busting" rather than to refer to either the realtor or the incoming ethnic families as "blockbusters." (In fact, it was still generally treated as two words, as I have used it, here, in metro Detroit in the 1960s.)
Old 02-18-2006, 11:42 PM
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I hadn't done much work on the word, but now that my Proquest access has included the Chicago Defender, I can better search this.

From 1949:

Three real estate brokers, one of them J.H. Calhoun, prominent Negro, were called before the Georgia Real Estate Commission to show why their licenses should not be revoked for selling property to Negroes in "white" areas. It is called 'block busting
Old 02-19-2006, 07:45 AM
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Here is what the Word Detective says.

The actual origin of "blockbuster," however, is a bit grimmer than just another lame Hollywood schlockfest. The term arose during World War II as Royal Air Force slang for an extremely large (as much as 8000 pounds) type of bomb, so powerful that it was capable of destroying an entire city block of buildings. After the war ended, "blockbuster" was appropriated by the advertising industry in the 1950s, who added it to their arsenal of superlatives alongside "astounding," "incredible" and "revolutionary."
Old 02-19-2006, 08:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Khadaji
Here is what the Word Detective says.
Evan Morris writes a good column, but many if not most of them are getting a bit dated by now. With the advent of modern electronic databases, we can see that blockbuster was almost immediately used to indicate something other than a bomb during World War II. The general population used it instantly to indicate something truly large. It didn't have to wait until the 1950's and advertising people.

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