also break-through, "significant or sudden advance," 1918, in a military sense, from the verbal phrase; see break (v.) + through (adv.). The verbal phrase is attested from c. 1400 in the sense "overcome or penetrate a barrier." The meaning "abrupt solution or progress" is from 1930s, on the notion of a successful attack.
Entries linking to breakthrough
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 The old past tense brake is obsolete or archaic; the past participle is broken, but shortened form broke is attested from 14c.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. The meaning "escape by breaking an enclosure" is from late 14c. The intransitive sense of "be or become separated into fragments or parts under action of some force" is from late 12c. The meaning "lessen, impair" is from late 15c. That of "make a first and partial disclosure" is from early 13c. The sense of "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 of "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 is attested from 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."
late 14c., metathesis of Old English þurh, from Proto-Germanic *thurx (source also of Old Saxon thuru, Old Frisian thruch, Middle Dutch dore, Dutch door, Old High German thuruh, German durch, Gothic þairh "through"), from PIE root *tere- (2) "to cross over, pass through, overcome." Not clearly differentiated from thorough until early Modern English. Spelling thro was common 15c.-18c. Reformed spelling thru (1839) is mainly American English.
updated on October 23, 2022