75 Idioms and Expressions That Include “Break”

By Mark Nichol

Break and its various forms are found in a number of idioms and expressions. Here is an extensive but likely incomplete list of such usages.

1. All hell break(s) loose: chaos ensues
2. Break bad: defy authority
3. Break bread: to dine together, thus symbolizing peace and cooperation
4. Break a code: figure out a system for disguising communication
5. Break a law: do something illegal
6. Break a leg: an expression from the performing arts equivalent to “Good luck”
7. Break a/the record: exceed the previous best performance
8. Break a habit: stop doing something one does regularly
9. Break a story: be the first journalist to report on an incident or issue
10. Break away: separate from a group
11. Break (one’s) back: expend a great deal of effort for a result
12. Break (one’s) balls: overwhelm or overwork someone
13. Break camp: pack equipment at a campsite in preparation for departure
14. Break down: physically or emotionally collapse, or reduce something to its constituent parts
15. Break even: end up with the same amount of money one had before investing or gambling
16. Break faith: cease to support, or to abide by a promise
17. Break (one’s) fall: prevent a fall of one’s body that might have caused injury
18. Break for: pause for
19. Break formation: cease to operate in an established formation or pattern
20. Break free: release oneself from a literal or figurative restraint
21. Break (one’s) heart: suffer emotional distress
22. Break ground: begin construction
23. Break in (or into): enter by force
24. Break (one) in: introduce someone to something, or initiate someone into something
25. Break it up: an admonition to stop what one is doing, especially arguing or fighting
26. Break loose: separate from
27. Break into a gallop: suddenly increase one’s pace to a gallop while riding a horse
28. Break new ground: begin something new or do something different
29. Break (one) of (something): cause someone to stop doing something habitual
30. Break of dawn: beginning of the day
31. Break off: stop or cease
32. Break open: forcibly open
33. Break out: forcibly remove something from something else, literally or figuratively escape, burst forth suddenly, separate (as into groups), or develop pimples
34. Break out in a cold sweat: become suddenly nervous or frightened so that one literally or figurative perspires
35. Break out in a rash: suddenly develop a skin condition
36. Break out in tears: suddenly begin crying
37. Break ranks: cease to adhere to a certain opinion or cause
38. Break silence: cease to refrain from speaking about something
39. Break (one’s) stride: suddenly stop walking
40. Break the back of: reduce the power or end the domination of
41. Break the bank: use all of one’s funds
42. Break the fourth wall: address an audience directly rather than act as if there is no audience (said of an actor)
43. Break the ice: do something to alleviate awkwardness or nervousness
44. Break the mold: do something differently than it has been done before, or, in the case of a comment that “They broke the mold when . . . ,” a sentiment that someone or something has no equal
45. Break the news: share (often unpleasant) information
46. Break the silence: speak up about a topic previously avoided
47. Break the spell: end a period in which one experienced delight
48. Break through: overcome
49. Break (something) to (someone): provide (usually unpleasant) news or information
50. Break up: to separate into pieces
51. Break up with: to end a romantic relationship with
52. Break wind: create flatulence
53. Break with: end a relationship with
54. Break with tradition: deviate from custom or standard practice
55. Break (one’s) word: renege on a promise
56. Breaking point: the limit of physical or emotional endurance
57. Broke: out of money
58. Broken arrow: military jargon or code referring to an accident involving nuclear weaponry or to a request for air support for a threatened position
59. Broken dreams: unfulfilled aspirations
60. (Sound like a) broken record: sound repetitive, like a vinyl record that skips and therefore repeatedly plays a sound
61. Broken reed: unreliable person (on the analogy of the broken reed of a reed instrument)
62. Even break: even chance
63. (Make a) clean break: escape without complications, or start over again
64. Give me a break: said to express skepticism or exasperation
65. Go for broke: risk everything
66. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: don’t try to improve something that works well
67. Lucky break: fortunate occurrence
68. Make a break for it: attempt to escape or get away
69. Make or break: said of a critical action that will result in significant success or failure
70. Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me: a child’s response to name-calling expressing that he or she is not injured by the name-calling
71. Take a break: pause while working
72. That’s the breaks/them’s the breaks: an expression of mild sympathy for bad luck
73. The straw that breaks the camel’s back: the final unfortunate or unpleasant incident that results in abandoning or rejecting a situation
74. Tough break: bad luck
75. You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs: a saying referring to the fact that sacrifices must be made to obtain desirable results

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7 Responses to “75 Idioms and Expressions That Include “Break””

  • Bill

    I’m not sure “defy authority” is the best definition of “break bad.” As watchers of the AMC show “Breaking Bad” might tell you, it has more to do with going from benefiting the common good to hurting it. Protesting fracking, economic inequality, and needless wars often require defying authority but are seen as advocating for positive change. Manufacturing a harmful, addictive drug is not.

  • Paul H. Hebner

    I think you need to expand upon a few of your definitions.

    First, to “break ones balls” has, in my experience, little to do with overwhelming or overworking someone, although those meanings can apply in some less common usages. Rather, and especially here in New York City, the phrase is used to describe situations in which excess criticism or accountability has been applied, especially in a threatening manner. One should think of it as a marginally acceptable substitute for “holding his feet to the fire.”

    Your definition of “breaking (one’s) stride is almost certainly incorrect, or at the very least misleadingly incomplete. Stride refers to pace, as in the pace of travel or the pace of progress toward a goal. So,”breaking stride” means that ones pace of travel or work has changes abruptly, and usually in a negative way. “Without breaking stride” is an expression of consistency and reliability of progress. Yes, this definition would include to “suddenly stop walking,” but that is hardly the primary meaning and, in fact, I have never seen it used in that manner.

    “Break the mold,” in addition to the meaning you stated, is more commonly used to describe uniqueness. It also used in the past tense to describe someone or something that is new, out of the ordinary or violates the status quo.

    “Break the bank” can also mean to use or acquire all the funds of another party, as in “he broke the bank at the casino.”

    An “even break” is, indeed, an even chance. But is is more generally used as an expression of fairness. One can both get an even break and give an even break

    Likewise, “give me a break” can also be a request for fairness.

  • Nelida K.

    @Bill: I concur with you that I am not sure about Mark’s take on the meaning of “breaking bad”. I was and am not a watcher of the now famous TV series, but I know of it, and I would say that it is more in the sense of creating havoc, or turning/becoming bad, or acting wrongfully. For instance, the “Pussy Riot” members defied authority, but I would not classify their actions as “breaking bad”.

  • Ray

    I always believed that “Broken Arrow” meant to make peace.
    From the old west about the Indian Wars, the Indians would break their arrow to show a laying down of arms, the arrow is no longer useful. This would also go with “burying the hatchet”.

  • Steven

    I believe that “Break Camp” can also be used to describe someone leaving (or siding with another) a political campaign or party. Also, I think the “Break for” meaning to pause for something is actually “Brake for.”

  • Ray

    I have always believed that “Broken Arrow” meant to make peace.
    From the old west about the Indian Wars, the Indians would break their arrow to show a laying down of arms, the arrow is no longer useful. This would also go with “burying the hatchet”.

    This is a second submit, first not shown? Sorry if two come up.

  • thebluebird11

    What about break-dancing 🙂

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