Break A Leg? Time to Unfracture the Phrase!

In English Tips + Tricks by Farheen RaajLeave a Comment

I’ve lost count of the number of times the expression “English is a phunny language” has crossed my mind, and very few of those times are about Amitabh Bacchan. There are so many ways to spell a word that seem to have no conceivable logic, and let us not even begin on those utterly confusing idioms and phrases. “Break a Leg” is just one of them!

It isn’t difficult to understand why anyone would get confused when told to break a leg when you get wished good luck. How is being told to break an appendage (limb) of your body a way of being wished success?! Here’s a quick lowdown on what this phrase means and its rather strange origin. The term was initially used as a wish for luck for theatre artists, and later on, evolved as a more general wish for good luck. The idiom originated as a theatre superstition in Britain, in the early 1900s. Their equivalent of superstitious elders believed that wishing people good luck, before they went on stage to perform, would result in bad luck. How they came about this logic, even us geniuses at LearnEd could not fathom. However, they decided that wishing something terrible on the artists would lead to the exact opposite, and hence this idiom, to “break a leg” came about!  Of course, there is a relatively more sane theory as well. It might come from the ancient Greek tradition of stomping your feet on the ground instead of clapping to mark your applause. There is yet another theory to this as well. Game of Thrones fans, think of the famous Bend the Knee moment. In Elizabethan (the era of Shakespeare, simply put)  English, there are many references to this phrase where it means to take a bow. Breaking a leg signified bending your leg to take a bow at the end of a great performance, on stage. The wish thus developed, when one wanted to wish an artist of a performance so good that they would take a bow in front of a full audience’s applause.

While the origins may be dubious, this idiom has become exceptionally popular in common usage, more so in context of any kind of performance. Arm yourself with the knowledge of more such interesting idioms with LearnEd, and go break a leg!

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