What Does Break the Ice Mean?

Break the Ice Meaning

Definition: To get past the initial awkwardness of meeting a new person or an otherwise uncomfortable situation.

This idiom is often used to describe saying something friendly to break the silence between two people.

Origin of Break the Ice

This idiom most likely developed from the practice of boats at sea breaking the ice in a body of water in order to pass through it and clear a path for other boats to also travel through.

This phrase has been used with its literal meaning since around the early 1600s, and its idiomatic usage developed somewhat later.

Examples of Break the Ice

to break the ice idiom meaningAdditionally, this idiom can be used to describe an activity in which groups of people who have just met get to know each other, as it is in the conversation below.

Ezekiel: Hey, Maggie, how’s it going?

Maggie: Pretty good actually. I’m just planning for a class that I’m going to be teaching this weekend.

Ezekiel: Really? That sounds like fun!

Maggie: Yeah, I’m pretty much done. I just need to plan an icebreaker. The class is really interactive, and none of the students know each other. I’m afraid if they don’t break the ice with each other at the beginning of class, all the other activities will be awkward.

Ezekiel: That’s a good idea.

meaning of to break the iceHere is another example in which one friend uses the idiom to describe how she feels awkward socially.

Mila: I really don’t want to go to this party.

Tyrion: Oh, come on. It will be fun!

Mila: No, it won’t. I’m terrible at meeting new people. I never know how to break the ice.

Tyrion: You won’t have to. I’ll introduce you to everyone.

More Examples

In this excerpt, the idiom is used in the context of giving suggestions on how to make social situations more comfortable.

  • If you’re running out of things to discuss at the dinner table or need to break the ice on a first date, Alexa can come up with suggested topics to keep the conversation flowing to avoid the awkward silence — or maybe just to have a little extra fun. –USA Today

This excerpt uses the idiom to describe ways to make online dating less awkward.

  • Just as podcasting is up close and personal with people, so is dating. As The Wall Street Journal noted, the use of GIFs on Tinder tends to help messages come across better, especially ones of Joey from Friends saying, “How you doin’?” It’s just two words more than “hey,” but it seems to be a popular way to break the ice. –The Wall Street Journal

Summary

The English phrase break the ice means to make the first move to be friendly in a social situation and break the awkward silence between two strangers.