like gangbusters

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like gangbusters

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Dec 06, 2013 5:54 am

aaa
<2013 “The market for fitness apps, devices, and services, while emergent, has been growing like gangbusters.”—The Week, 26 November, page 18>
I haven’t heard gangbusters or the phrase like gangbusters much in recent years, but maybe I haven’t been listening. It’s listed in almost every standard and slang dictionary I checked, has a healthy number of Google hits, and appears in relatively high numbers in news archives.

LIKE GANGBUSTERS (often COME ON LIKE GANGBUSTERS also DO or GO GANGBUSTERS) adverbial slang phrase originally U.S. [1940s and still in use]:

1) With great initial excitement, with a strong start, beginning with great intensity, energy, or aggressiveness. <The hockey team came on at the beginning of the season like gangbusters.>

2) With great success, speed, energy or vigor; performing exceptionally well. <The software company was growing like gangbusters.> <This year’s sales are going gangbusters> [This second and later usage, unlike #1, is not necessarily in reference to the beginning or early stages of something.]

GANGBUSTER(S) Slang originally U.S. [1930s and still in use]:

1) Noun: a) A law-enforcement official, officer, or organization that takes part in breaking (busting) up criminal gangs. b) An outstandingly successful state or situation. <We aren't looking for gangbusters, but we'd like you to pass all your subjects this semester.>

2) Adjective: Extremely successful: <An experiment yielding gangbuster results.> <A profitable, gangbusters third quarter.>

3) Adverb: See above adverbial phrase definition #1. <He started out gangbusters>

Etymology: H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), influential and prolific American journalist, scholar of American English, . . . said in his multi-volume work, The American Language, Supplement II (1948), page 355, “Gang-buster was launched in 1935 to describe Thomas E. Dewey.” As a famed New York (Manhattan) special prosecutor (1935-36), Dewey’s targets were the gangsters of organized crime. He went on to become governor of New York and was the unsuccessful Republican candidate for president in 1944 and 1948.

But it was the U.S. radio program Gang Busters (a.k.a. Gangbusters), which went on the air in 1936 and ran through 1957, that popularized the 1935 description of Dewey. The program was known for its sound effects, meant to generate excitement, especially at the beginning of each episode, which featured police sirens, roaring motors, screeching brakes, machine gun fire, . . . . Listen here.

(Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, The Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, and Grammarist.com)
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When I was a lad I was a big fan of the Gangbusters radio show as I was of many others (e.g. Sky King, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger, Jack Armstrong the All-American Boy, The Shadow, The Inner Sanctum,. . .) before they were decimated by television. Sit back and let your imagination do the seeing – them was the days!

The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, and archived sources:
<1940 “The boys with leather boots who liked to act as a combination of Army, vigilantes, Ku Kluxers, gangsters, gangbusters and defenders of the pure Italian or German way of life.”—in American Speech, Volume XVIII, May 1943, page 150>

<1940 “Prison slang . . . coming on like Gang Busters means doing all right.”—Current History & Forum, 7 November, page 21>

<1946 “We’d come on like gangbusters playing together.”—Really Blues by Mezzrow & Wolfe, page 53>

<1955 “Kelso [sc. a racehorse] clobbered the field with a gangbusters finish.”—Los Angeles Times (California), ii, 31 December, page 2/2>

<1979 “‘He'll do gangbusters with Best Little Whorehouse,’ said Tefer, referring to the musical that opens at the Warner next month.”—Washington Post (D.C.), 11 December, page c9/5>

<1984 “Apple's Macintosh is going gangbusters in the US.”—Today’s Computers, September, page 8/3>

<1995 “The person most likely to fail is the one who starts out gangbusters.”—Minnesota Monthly, January, page 84/2>

<2001 “Mr Day said R-rated movies had also sold ‘gangbusters’ and many people joined mailing lists to buy X-rated movies from Canberra.”—Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Australia), 12 March, page 3/4>

<2005 “The Chinese cell phone market is growing like gangbusters and boasts an impressive 330 million subscribers.”—Washington Post (D.C.), 1 June>

<2009 “The restructuring boys are going gangbusters and there’s little to suggest the good times are likely to end anytime soon.”—The Independent, 29 March>

<2011 “He said that he hopes to see the program expand in the future. ‘If this takes off and really becomes a gangbuster and there's more desire for it, we can always look at adding more in some of the other places . . .”—US Fed News Service, 22 March>

<2013 “Cloud computing has not yet come on like gangbusters in the federal government. . . . . But the cloud computing model as a federal service is still maturing, . . .”—Washington Technology, 4 December>
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Ken G – December 5, 2013
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Re: like gangbusters

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Fri Dec 06, 2013 10:00 am

They should bring back the old programs. (note the deference to their mainly US origins)

I like The restructuring boys are going gangbusters - it's another of those not-really-a direct-object thingies.

*Gangbusters are being gone by the restructuring boys.

*Are the restructuring boys going them?

I suppose it's more link-verb-like:

The restructuring boys are going crazy.
The restructuring boys are becoming bullies.

with the hybrid noun-adj variant

The restructuring boys are going ape.
The restructuring boys are going bush.
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Re: like gangbusters

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Dec 06, 2013 11:08 am

You can count on gangbusters to be gone like a landslide.
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Re: like gangbusters

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Dec 08, 2013 3:17 am

aaa

Gentlemen and Gentlewomen (Where are you Shelley?),

I was wondering how popular the ‘gangbuster’ expressions were outside of the U.S. To get a rough idea, I figured that this would be a good job for the ever-popular Ngram. I figured that looking at the 2008 results for percent [gangbuster + gangbusters] and comparing the American and British results should do the trick:

For American English see: here.

Percent [Gangbuster + Gangbusters] = 4.9 x 10^-6 percent
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For British English see here.

Percent [Gangbuster + Gangbusters] = 1.1 x 10^-6 percent
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Therefore, the ratio of American:British English = 4.5:1
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For the heck of it, I decided to do a check on self-consistency. It should be true that the Ngram results for [American English + British English] equals the Ngram results for All English.

Percent [American English + British English] = 4.9 x 10^-6 + 1.1 x 10^-6 = 6.0 x 10^-6 percent.

For All English see here.

Percent [Gangbuster + Ganbusters] = 3.4 x 10^-6 percent
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Something is rotten in Ngramland. The whole is less than the sum of its parts!!

3.4 x 10^-6 percent is less than 6.0 x 10^-6 percent

That’s really disturbing. Did I make a dumb error in the above or is there some logical reason why those two don’t agree, which somehow doesn’t affect the validity of the rest of the results? It’s hard for me to believe that the smart folks at Google would come up with a tool that had such a basic flaw. Incidentally, when I went back and did the numbers for the diaeresis posting, I ran into the same problem. (>:)

For now, I’ll look at Ngram numbers with a jaundiced eye. However, I think it can still show trends. For example, when we look at the Ngram for the word ‘gangbusters’ we can say that it first appeared in about 1940 and its use rose rapidly into the 2000s to a percentage ‘somewhere around’ 3 x 10^-6. Also, when comparing the percentages for the word ‘gangbuster’ and ‘gangbusters’ we might be able to say with some assurance that second outnumbers the first by a fairly wide margin – the Ngram says about 10:1.

So what about the above American:British English ratio for [gangbuster + gangbusters ] of 4.5:1? I think that at present all I can say with some assurance (if I haven’t blundered) is that the American English results outnumber the British English results multiple times.

If anyone sees something wrong in what I've done, please say so. If not, I’ll ask my number one son, who is working with Google folks on a project at MIT, if he could find an Ngram person to contact.

By the by, can folks from across the sea comment on how common (or uncommon) ‘gangbusters’ is over there.
______________________

Ken – December 7, 2013 (Ngrammed out)
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Re: like gangbusters

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Dec 08, 2013 3:27 am

Ken Greenwald wrote:If anyone sees something wrong in what I've done, please say so. If not, I’ll ask my number one son, who is working with Google folks on a project at MIT, if he could find an Ngram person to contact.

By the by, can folks from across the sea comment on how common (or uncommon) ‘gangbusters’ is over there.
Yes, Ken, please ask Scott if he can get to the bottom of this; I know that besides you, our Antipodean cousin is also apt to view Ngram and Google hit (a.k.a. Ghit) stats with a sceptical eye, and I too think the anomalies in your findings require a fact-based explanation that only Google is properly equipped to supply. Edwin regularly consults the Ngram tool as well, and I'm guessing that also he would be interested to know how such anomalies should be interpreted.

To the best of my recollection, I never encountered 'gangbuster(s)' before I moved from Britain to the USA circa 12 years ago.
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Re: like gangbusters

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sun Dec 08, 2013 11:16 am

I've never come across 'gangbusters' either.

Turning to the reliability of Google stats, Stoney B advises:

Never trust those numbers of hits Google reports. They vary widely, depending on where you post your search from (they told me 3,030,000 hits on "I have a question to you"!), and they are "estimates" which bear no relationship to the number of actual hits they can show you. I have on occasion been told Google had tens of thousands of hits on a particular phrase, which when followed up turned out to be ten pages or fewer: less than a hundred.

A more reliable method of assessing usage is through Google Ngrams. This only surveys printed sources, so it doesn't catch much colloquial use (except the heavily stylized dialogue in fiction and scripts); but the graphs it provides are tolerably reliable.

And J Lawler summarises:

What all of this demonstrates is that Google Ngram does not represent real language -- i.e, speech -- but rather written (and especially printed) texts. One can get no quantitative data about usage from written data, except for usage by writers in writing, which represents a minuscule and artificial portion of daily language use. – John Lawler

With regard to the anomaly Ken comes up with, possible explanations would include:

(1) Google calculates its 'percentages' differently for UK and US English (unlikely)

(2) There are other appreciable non-overlapping categories it includes in 'all English' (Oz, Indian?)

(3) They are wrong. (I've just managed to prove that if x% of A + y% of B = z% of (A + B), z cannot lie outside the range [x, y] (taking x as not the larger) - so 3% of A combined with 8% of B cannot constitute less than 3% or more than 8% of the combined population (A + B).) (And I did all that algebra for nothing: obviously, 3% of A combined with >3% of B does not constitute less than 3% of the combined population, and <8% of A combined with 8% of B does not constitute more than 8% of the combined population!)
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Re: like gangbusters

Post by Bobinwales » Sun Dec 08, 2013 12:39 pm

Gangbuster is a new one on me... and my spell-checker.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: like gangbusters

Post by Wizard of Oz » Tue Dec 10, 2013 12:32 am

Ed said:

Stoney B advises:

Never trust those numbers of hits Google reports. They vary widely, depending on where you post your search from
.. well thank you !!! Stoney B (whichever expert you may purport to be) .. poor old dumbarse WoZ pointed this out .. and proved it .. several years ago on this very website .. it heralded the beginning of Ken using his famous Google hits at my space-time coordinates .. glad somebody finally caught up ..

.. and then ..
One can get no quantitative data about usage from written data, except for usage by writers in writing, which represents a minuscule and artificial portion of daily language use. – John Lawler
.. my thanks here to Mr Lawler, another quotable expert, for supporting WoZ in his long held position on using written quotes as evidence of place of origin or first usage ..

.. the world will turn and all shall see the wisdom of those who emerge from the dark ..

WoZ downunder coming out on top
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: like gangbusters

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Tue Dec 10, 2013 3:28 pm

Sorry, WiZ, I've missed your Google stat-bash or forgotten it.

As for evidence other than permanently recorded, it's hard to judge its validity. JL doesn't say that we have a better source than the woefully inadequate ones OED say demands.

And stop winning at cricket.
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Re: like gangbusters

Post by Wizard of Oz » Fri Dec 20, 2013 10:40 am

.. sorry about the cricket Ed .. we will give the poms another go at it in Sydney and Melbourne .. the "Return the Urn" campaign has worked ..

WoZ padding up
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

End of topic.
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