What Does Break A Leg Mean?

Break a Leg Meaning

Definition: A common wish of luck said before a performance of some kind.

Saying Break a leg! to someone before an important event means you hope that they do well or have a great show. It is most common in the theatre, where actors say it to each other or family and friends say it to actors before taking the stage.

The standard response to Break a leg! is Thanks!

Origin of Break A Leg!

Meaning of break a leg idiom Since Shakespearean times it has been a superstition that wishing someone “good luck” before a performance was actually bad luck. From there sprung the need to say something negative to inspire the opposite: good luck.

Robert Wilson Lynd claimed that theatre-goers were second only to horse racers in their superstitious beliefs, and, in 1921, he wrote in the New Statesman,

  • You should say something insulting such as, ‘May you break your leg!’

This phrase stuck, and it became increasingly popular throughout the 1940s and 50s, even though the idea of fairies and demons controlling the outcome of a play were increasingly unpopular.

Interestingly, the German language has a similar phrase: hals und beinbruch, which is used to mean happy landings among pilots but literally means breaking all one’s bones.

Examples of Break A Leg!

break a leg origin In the modern day, people say break a leg to performers before they take the stage. This can be before a stage performance, but it may also be before a test, interview, or any other important event where one might wish for luck.

It is almost always said as an expression, “Break a leg!” and never in a sentence such as “He really broke a leg last night.” (which would mean he actually broke his leg).

More Examples

  • So if you know… the brave storytellers signed up for the Houston show – give them a pat on the back and tell them to “break a leg.” –Houston Press
  • Actor takes ‘break a leg’ to extremes, and breaks both skiing. –Herald & Review

Summary

Before an important event, tell someone to Break a leg! and you’ll be wishing them well on their performance, interview, or otherwise.