Break a Leg (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Break a Leg"?

The term "break a leg" means good luck. Originally, it was said to actors prior to a performance to wish them luck. Nowadays, it is used more widely to wish someone luck.
Break a Leg (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • You've studied this role diligently. You'll be amazing. Get out there and break a leg!
  • Your throat looks clear, and your voice seems back to normal. Don't hold back. You can sing your heart out. Break a leg!
The term "break a leg" originates from the mid-20th century. It stems from the suspicion among actors that it is bad luck to wish a fellow actor good luck before a performance. As a result, actors often tell colleagues to "break a leg," which, with converse logic, is a way of wishing them good luck. Supporters of this theory highlight that actors genuinely do not wish each other good luck and also have a raft of similar superstitions to avoid bad luck, including:
  • Actors will not whistle in a theatre.
  • Actors will not say the final line of a play during rehearsal.
  • Actors will not say "Macbeth" but will instead call it "The Scottish Play."
Grammatically speaking, "break a leg" is an imperative sentence (i.e., an instruction). It is also an example of assonance (repeating vowel sounds), which gives the saying rhythm, contributing to its popularity.

Competing Theory

"Break a leg" has nothing to do with luck. It means to try hard to the extent that you break a leg.

Competing Theory

"Break a leg" comes from the German saying "Hals und Beinbruch," which means break your neck and leg. This saying was a banter-style wish used among German aircrew throughout World War II.

Competing Theory

"Break a leg" means to give a performance so good that one of the side curtains (called "legs") will fail due to the number of encores.

Competing Theory

"Break a leg" means to give a performance so good that you will break a leg as a result of all the post-show curtsying or bending to collect the coins thrown by the audience.

Previous and Next Sayings

Test Your Knowledge of English Proverbs and Idioms

Ready for the Test?

More Proverbs, Sayings, and Idioms

Help Us Improve Grammar Monster

  • Do you disagree with something on this page?
  • Did you spot a typo?

Find Us Quicker!

  • When using a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing), you will find Grammar Monster quicker if you add #gm to your search term.
Next lesson >

See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

Page URL