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My friend recently used the phrase:

She nearly burst herself laughing.

Is this a valid expression. I've certainly never heard it before, but he insists it is in common use.

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"She nearly p*ssed herself laughing" is closer to what I have heard... :-) –  Peter K. May 4 '12 at 16:22
    
@Urbycoz: I am struggling to understand, even if it is uncommon, why you think it would not be "valid." –  horatio May 4 '12 at 16:26
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The idea of someone bursting with laughter has been around at least since the sixteenth century when the poet John Skelton wrote:

For laughter I am lyke to brast.

The reflexive form of 'burst', as in your example, however, is probably not all that common.

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In connection with "splitting one's sides" and "bursting" from laughter, I note that a common colloquial phrase in the United States for laughing hard is "busting a gut." Ngram results for "busting a gut"/"busted a gut" commence in the early 1930s, most of the early instances unrelated to laughter. However, Google Books finds this example from Collier's magazine, vol. 114, part 2 (1944): "We arrived at Arezzo on the seventh day. very cold and hungry. There were no blankets, and we broke up the bunks to build fires. 'You are destroying government property!' a German guard scolded, and we about busted a gut laughing." And from A World to Win (1935) by Jack Conroy, we have the fragmentary "You'll bust a gut laughing."

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary traces the verb "bust" as an alteration of "burst" as far back as 1806, but the first Webster's dictionary I'm aware of that acknowledges the existence of "bust" as a verb is the Third Collegiate (1916), which labels the word, when used to mean "to burst," as Dial. or Vulgar. In contrast, the same dictionary lists "bust" in the sense of "to be ruined financially" as Slang, and the meaning "to tame, break" [a horse, for example] as Colloq., Western U.S.

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I don't know that phrase, but "split one's sides" is quite common, though maybe a bit old-fashioned. The idiom as I've quoted it is complete: you could say "split one's sides laughing", but you don't need to.

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To burst out laughing is a fairly common idiom: it's when you suddenly start laughing, and the laugh "bursts" or jumps and splutters out of your mouth.

I can't recall ever having heard of someone having burst herself [or himself] laughing, but I can tell what it means.

Here's an Ngram that suggests burst herself laughing is very rare:

Ngram of burst out laughing,burst herself laughing,burst himself laughing

And removing the burst out laughing leaves an empty line; there's just 14 results in Google Books for burst herself laughing or burst himself laughing.

Therefore I would say it's valid (as in grammatical and understandable) expression, but it's not at all common.

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"Burst out laughing" has a different meaning: it refers to starting to laugh suddenly, not how hard one is laughing. –  Colin Fine May 4 '12 at 17:43
    
@ColinFine: Do you think there may be some connection between the two? –  Hugo May 4 '12 at 17:52
    
They're both about laughing. Why might there be any other connection? –  Colin Fine May 4 '12 at 22:43
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