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.

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