break (v.)

Old English brecan "to divide solid matter violently into parts or fragments; to injure, violate (a promise, etc.), destroy, curtail; to break into, rush into; to burst forth, spring out; to subdue, tame" (class IV strong verb; past tense bræc, past participle brocen), from Proto-Germanic *brekanan (source also of Old Frisian breka, Dutch breken, Old High German brehhan, German brechen, Gothic brikan), from PIE root *bhreg- "to break."

Closely related to breach (n.), brake (n.1), brick (n.). The old past tense brake is obsolete or archaic; past participle is broken, but shortened form broke is attested from 14c. and was "exceedingly common" [OED] 17c.-18c.

Of bones in Old English. Formerly also of cloth, paper, etc. Meaning "escape by breaking an enclosure" is from late 14c. Intransitive sense "be or become separated into fragments or parts under action of some force" is from late 12c. Meaning "lessen, impair" is from late 15c. Meaning "make a first and partial disclosure" is from early 13c. Meaning "destroy continuity or completeness" in any way is from 1741. Of coins or bills, "to convert to smaller units of currency," by 1882. In reference to the heart from early 13c. (intransitive); to break (someone's) heart is late 14c.

Break bread "share food" (with) is from late 14c. To break ground is from 1670s as "to dig, plow," from 1709 in the figurative sense "begin to execute a plan." To break the ice "overcome the feeling of restraint in a new acquaintanceship" is from c. 1600, in reference to the "coldness" of encounters of strangers. Break wind first attested 1550s. To break (something) out (1890s) probably is an image from dock work, of freeing cargo before unloading it.

The ironic theatrical good luck formula break a leg (by 1948, said to be from at least 1920s) has parallels in German Hals- und Beinbruch "break your neck and leg," and Italian in bocca al lupo. Evidence of a highly superstitious craft (see Macbeth). According to Farmer & Henley, in 17c. the expression was used euphemistically, of a woman, "to have a bastard."

break (n.)

c. 1300, "act of breaking, forcible disruption or separation," from break (v.). Sense in break of day "first appearance of light in the morning" is from 1580s; meaning "sudden, marked transition from one course, place, or state to another" is by 1725. Sense of "short interval between spells of work" (originally between lessons at school) is from 1861. Meaning "stroke of luck" is attested by 1911, probably an image from billiards (where the break that scatters the ordered balls and starts the game is attested from 1865). Meaning "stroke of mercy" is from 1914. Jazz musical sense of "improvised passage, solo" is from 1920s. Broadcasting sense is by 1941.

updated on February 14, 2021

Definitions of break from WordNet
break (v.)
break the cycle of poverty
break a lucky streak
Synonyms: interrupt
break (v.)
become separated into pieces or fragments;
The figurine broke
Synonyms: separate / split up / fall apart / come apart
break (v.)
render inoperable or ineffective;
You broke the alarm clock when you took it apart!
break (v.)
ruin completely;
Synonyms: bust
break (v.)
destroy the integrity of; usually by force; cause to separate into pieces or fragments;
He broke the glass plate
She broke the match
break (v.)
act in disregard of laws, rules, contracts, or promises;
break a law
break a promise
Synonyms: transgress / offend / infract / violate / go against / breach
break (v.)
move away or escape suddenly;
The horses broke from the stable
Nobody can break out--this prison is high security
Three inmates broke jail
Synonyms: break out / break away
break (v.)
scatter or part;
The clouds broke after the heavy downpour
break (v.)
force out or release suddenly and often violently something pent up;
break into tears
Synonyms: burst / erupt
break (v.)
prevent completion;
break off the negotiations
Synonyms: break off / discontinue / stop
break (v.)
enter someone's (virtual or real) property in an unauthorized manner, usually with the intent to steal or commit a violent act;
who broke into my account last night?
Someone broke in while I was on vacation
They broke into my car and stole my radio!
Synonyms: break in
break (v.)
make submissive, obedient, or useful;
The horse was tough to break
I broke in the new intern
Synonyms: break in
break (v.)
fail to agree with; be in violation of; as of rules or patterns;
Synonyms: violate / go against
break (v.)
surpass in excellence;
break a record
Synonyms: better
break (v.)
make known to the public information that was previously known only to a few people or that was meant to be kept a secret;
he broke the news to her
Synonyms: unwrap / disclose / let on / bring out / reveal / discover / expose / divulge / give away / let out / uncover
break (v.)
come into being;
Voices broke in the air
light broke over the horizon
break (v.)
stop operating or functioning;
The bus we travelled in broke down on the way to town
The coffee maker broke
Synonyms: fail / go bad / give way / die / give out / conk out / go / break down
break (v.)
interrupt a continued activity;
She had broken with the traditional patterns
Synonyms: break away
break (v.)
make a rupture in the ranks of the enemy or one's own by quitting or fleeing;
The ranks broke
break (v.)
curl over and fall apart in surf or foam, of waves;
The surf broke
break (v.)
lessen in force or effect;
break a fall
Synonyms: dampen / damp / soften / weaken
break (v.)
be broken in;
If the new teacher won't break, we'll add some stress
break (v.)
come to an end;
The heat wave finally broke yesterday
break (v.)
vary or interrupt a uniformity or continuity;
The flat plain was broken by tall mesas
break (v.)
cause to give up a habit;
She finally broke herself of smoking cigarettes
break (v.)
give up;
break cigarette smoking
break (v.)
come forth or begin from a state of latency;
The first winter storm broke over New York
break (v.)
happen or take place;
Things have been breaking pretty well for us in the past few months
break (v.)
cause the failure or ruin of;
His peccadilloes finally broke his marriage
This play will either make or break the playwright
break (v.)
invalidate by judicial action;
The will was broken
break (v.)
discontinue an association or relation; go different ways;
The business partners broke over a tax question
Synonyms: separate / part / split up / split / break up
break (v.)
assign to a lower position; reduce in rank;
He was broken down to Sergeant
Synonyms: demote / bump / relegate / kick downstairs
break (v.)
reduce to bankruptcy;
My daughter's fancy wedding is going to break me!
Synonyms: bankrupt / ruin / smash
break (v.)
change directions suddenly;
break (v.)
emerge from the surface of a body of water;
The whales broke
break (v.)
break down, literally or metaphorically;
The dam broke
Synonyms: collapse / fall in / cave in / give / give way / founder
break (v.)
do a break dance;
Kids were break-dancing at the street corner
Synonyms: break dance / break-dance
break (v.)
exchange for smaller units of money;
I had to break a $100 bill just to buy the candy
break (v.)
destroy the completeness of a set of related items;
The book dealer would not break the set
Synonyms: break up
break (v.)
make the opening shot that scatters the balls;
break (v.)
separate from a clinch, in boxing;
The referee broke the boxers
break (v.)
go to pieces;
The lawn mower finally broke
Synonyms: wear / wear out / bust / fall apart
break (v.)
break a piece from a whole;
break a branch from a tree
Synonyms: break off / snap off
break (v.)
become punctured or penetrated;
The skin broke
break (v.)
pierce or penetrate;
The blade broke her skin
break (v.)
be released or become known; of news;
News of her death broke in the morning
Synonyms: get out / get around
break (v.)
cease an action temporarily;
let's break for lunch
Synonyms: pause / intermit
break (v.)
interrupt the flow of current in;
break a circuit
break (v.)
undergo breaking;
The simple vowels broke in many Germanic languages
break (v.)
find a flaw in;
break an alibi
break down a proof
break (v.)
find the solution or key to;
break the code
break (v.)
change suddenly from one tone quality or register to another;
Her voice broke to a whisper when she started to talk about her children
break (v.)
Synonyms: recrudesce / develop
break (v.)
become fractured; break or crack on the surface only;
Synonyms: crack / check
break (v.)
crack; of the male voice in puberty;
his voice is breaking--he should no longer sing in the choir
break (v.)
fall sharply;
stock prices broke
break (v.)
fracture a bone of;
I broke my foot while playing hockey
Synonyms: fracture
break (v.)
diminish or discontinue abruptly;
The patient's fever broke last night
break (v.)
weaken or destroy in spirit or body;
His resistance was broken
a man broken by the terrible experience of near-death
break (n.)
some abrupt occurrence that interrupts an ongoing activity;
there was a break in the action when a player was hurt
Synonyms: interruption
break (n.)
an unexpected piece of good luck;
he finally got his big break
Synonyms: good luck / happy chance
break (n.)
(geology) a crack in the earth's crust resulting from the displacement of one side with respect to the other;
Synonyms: fault / faulting / geological fault / shift / fracture
break (n.)
a personal or social separation (as between opposing factions);
they hoped to avoid a break in relations
Synonyms: rupture / breach / severance / rift / falling out
break (n.)
a pause from doing something (as work);
we took a 10-minute break
Synonyms: respite / recess / time out
break (n.)
the act of breaking something;
Synonyms: breakage / breaking
break (n.)
a time interval during which there is a temporary cessation of something;
break (n.)
breaking of hard tissue such as bone;
the break seems to have been caused by a fall
Synonyms: fracture
break (n.)
the occurrence of breaking;
the break in the dam threatened the valley
break (n.)
an abrupt change in the tone or register of the voice (as at puberty or due to emotion);
then there was a break in her voice
break (n.)
the opening shot that scatters the balls in billiards or pool;
break (n.)
(tennis) a score consisting of winning a game when your opponent was serving;
he was up two breaks in the second set
Synonyms: break of serve
break (n.)
an act of delaying or interrupting the continuity;
it was presented without commercial breaks
Synonyms: interruption / disruption / gap
break (n.)
a sudden dash;
he made a break for the open door
break (n.)
any frame in which a bowler fails to make a strike or spare;
the break in the eighth frame cost him the match
Synonyms: open frame
break (n.)
an escape from jail;
Synonyms: breakout / jailbreak / gaolbreak / prisonbreak / prison-breaking
Etymologies are not definitions. From, not affiliated with etymonline.