Green’s Dictionary of Slang

break v.2


1. (also break for, break it) of people, to rush off, to leave suddenly; to escape from prison; thus breaker n., one who escapes from prison.

[UK]Trial of Charles Drew 19: The Captain behaved very indecently and told the Colonel he was a Smugler, and had broke 13 Gaols already, and swore he would break another and would be next Week in France.
[US]G.F. Ruxton Life in the Far West (1849) 60: ‘Mary,’ he said, ‘I’m about to break. They’re hunting me like a fall buck, and I’m bound to quit. Don’t think any more about me, for I shall never come back.’.
G.W. Harris ‘Sut Lovingood’s Big Dinner Story’ Nashville Union and Amer. XXXIII Aug. in Inge (1967) 169: Then she broke for home.
[US]Bloomfield Times (PA) 18 Mar. 2/4: As soon as she entered the door, he broke. The dogs all went after him.
[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.] 27: To break it thieves to run.
[US]J. Fishman Crucibles of Crime 226: He doesn’t want to be thought rough / By ‘gay cat,’ ‘stiff’ or ‘faker;’ / His gun it seems is just a bluff, / Hence Bender is a ‘breaker’.
[US]‘Max Brand’ Pleasant Jim 299: What I did then was to break gaol.
[US]R. Whitfield Green Ice (1988) 47: I told her to break for the dirty burg.
[US]R. Chandler Long Good-Bye 51: Had a guy break from me once. They ate my ass off. Let’s go, boy.
[US]D. Pendleton Executioner (1973) 173: They’re buzzed by the fuzz. No chance, no chance. I’m breaking.
[US] Ice-T ‘Six in the Morning’ 🎵 Out the back door like some damn track stars / Broke down an alley jumped into a car.
[US]P. Beatty White Boy Shuffle 99: Break north befo’ I call mother.
[US]Eble Sl. and Sociability 101: Farewells are often the equivalent of I must leave now and use various slang substitutes for leave. For example [...] gotta plus bogart, bolt, boogie, book, break [...] all of which mean ‘leave, depart’.

2. (also break down, break in) of things, events, to turn out, to transpire, to develop; often qualified by defining adj.

[US]Ade Artie (1963) 16–19: I did n’t expect to break in, but when the night come there was nothin’ else in sight so I hot-foots up to the dance.
[US]H. Green Maison De Shine 217: Well, the way things are breakin’, Bill [...] we better grab what we can.
[US]R. Lardner ‘Three Kings and a Pair’ in Gullible’s Travels 53: ‘It’s tough luck,’ I says, ‘but you can’t expect things to break right all the w’ile.’.
[US]D. Hammett ‘House Dick’ in Nightmare Town (2001) 50: I’d just as leave have you standing by in case things break wrong.
[US]W.R. Burnett Little Caesar 137: Things were breaking good, money was rolling in.
[US]Hecht & Fowler Great Magoo 148: Well, how are things breakin’?
[UK]J. Curtis You’re in the Racket, Too 95: Things were beginning to break better now.
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 265: Things were breaking all around, and not only precedents.
[UK]I, Mobster 84: I ought to have felt good about the way things were breaking.
[US]H.S. Thompson letter 20 Aug. in Proud Highway (1997) 388: As for plans, there are two possibilities and they both broke today.
[UK]G.F. Newman You Flash Bastard 275: ‘What about my involvement should an enquiry break?’ ‘An enquiry will break, Terry; sure it will.’.
[US]T. Wolfe Bonfire of the Vanities 210: And if things break right, you’ll be on to something big.
[US]Tarantino & Avery Pulp Fiction [film script] 8: Yeah, it breaks down like this.
[UK]Guardian Guide 13–19 May 52: When someone asks, ‘let me know how your job interview goes’, what they actually say is: ‘gimme the heads up and let me know how it breaks’.
[UK]G. Iles Turning Angel 106: Look, things are breaking fast on this.

3. to conduct oneself.

[UK]P. Cheyney Dames Don’t Care (1960) 64: Just how Henrietta is breakin’ wit these guys out at the Hacienda, I do not know.

4. to reveal or be revealed; to promote, to publicize, usu. in media context.

[US]R. Chandler ‘Spanish Blood’ in Spanish Blood (1946) 11: We got to break this fast. It’s dynamite.
[UK]K. Fearing Big Clock (2002) 72: When the story breaks, he may go straight to the police.
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 92: When you gonna break somethin’ in the papers about him?
[UK]Wodehouse Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit 165: I’m telling you the biggest story that has broken around these parts for years.
[US]C. Hiaasen Tourist Season (1987) 12: Something broke while you were diddling around. News, they call it.
[UK]Guardian Weekend 4 Dec. 44: The story breaks and I couldn’t believe it – little me [...] on the cover of four papers.

5. to render successful; to become successful.

[US]Zigzag Apr. n.p.: United Artists seem to have so many good bands, but they can’t seem to break them [KH].
[US]Sounds 24 Jan. n.p.: ‘Roxanne’ broke big [KH].
[US]in B. Coleman Rakim Told Me 42: ‘My whole thing [...] was breaking records, [...] If I liked a group I’d call up the artist and say: ‘Look, I'm gonna make your record hot’.
[UK]K. Sampson Powder 351: This could be the deal that breaks this band wide open.
[Scot]I. Welsh Dead Man’s Trousers 26: It happened with Ivan, the Belgian DJ I broke big.

6. see break up v. (4) .

In phrases

break bad (v.)

1. to have a mental breakdown.

[US]D. Runyon ‘The Informal Execution of Soupbone Pew’ in From First to Last (1954) 68: He broke bad. Honey Grove laid a plan for a big spring—a get-away [...] but just as they were about ready, Soupbone got cold feet and gave up his insides.

2. (US black) to become angry or aggressive.

[US]C. Brown Manchild in the Promised Land (1969) 327: Down home, when they went to town, all the niggers would just break bad, so it seemed.
[US]A. Baraka Tales (1969) 42: J. [...] broke bad because Augie, Norman, and white Johnny were there.
[US]R.D. Pharr S.R.O. (1998) 209: ‘They [i.e. a prostitute’s clients] break bad, Sandy can handle them’.
[US]J.L. Gwaltney Drylongso 20: If anybody should get up off their jobs for these refugees, it should be those paddies that told them to break bad with the Bear to begin with.
Steve Dahl Show on WCKG [radio; Chicago] 19 Aug. 🌐 If Steve was in Vietnam, he’d never break bad on any of the other people he served with.
M.C. Funk ‘Spill Site’ in ThugLit Sept./Oct. [ebook] All that discipline, and still they’d broken bad. Turned sneaky. Gone bitter. Given up’.

3. (US campus) to perform well.

[US]Eble Campus Sl. Spring 1: break bad – do something extremely well: When Jeff Lebo hits a three-pointer, he’s breaking bad.
break down (v.)

see sense 2 above.

break for (v.)

see sense 1 above.

break hard (v.)

to act aggressively.

[US]G. Pelecanos Night Gardener 198: This city had its own force and they were known to break hard on kids who lived [...] down by the apartments.
break ill (v.) [ill adj. (2)]

(US black) to make a mistake, to take the wrong course of action.

[US]Eble Campus Sl. Mar.
[US]Freddie Foxxx ‘I’m Ready’ 🎵 Rappers boast and brag about their lyrical skills / But they all shut the fuck up when I break ill.
break in (v.)

see sense 2 above.

break it (v.)

see sense 1 above.

break it (big) (v.)

(Aus.) to win heavily, esp. when gambling.

[Aus]W.S. Walker In the Blood 114: Ain’t I good enuff ter yer, give yer all the money I make when I ’ave the luck ter ‘break it’.
[Aus]G.H. Lawson Dict. of Aus. Words And Terms 🌐 BREAK-IT — Win money when destitute.
[UK] (ref. to 1954) Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 132/1: break it big To win a lot of money; esp. at gambling; Aus.
break weak (v.)

(US) to act in a cowardly manner.

[US]Bentley & Corbett Prison Sl. 31: Break Weak An expression to indicate a person’s behavior when they back down or become passive in a confrontative situation.
[US] 7–13 Feb. 🌐 THIS IS MY ONE & ONLY LOVE KAMAU I will never break weak, Our bond will be everlasting. I love You-Kehli.
break wide (v.) (US black)

1. to lose interest.

[US]Bentley & Corbett Prison Sl. 48: Break Wide To lose interest in a certain situation.

2. to leave in a hurry.

[US] in Bentley & Corbett Prison Sl. 48: Telling someone to break wide is telling him to leave.
[US]G. Smitherman Black Talk.