Green’s Dictionary of Slang

break v.1

1. [early 18C; late 19C+] to render someone impoverished.

2. [late 18C; 1900s] to become impoverished.

3. [1940s+] (Aus.) to cost, e.g. that’ll break for five dollars.

In phrases

I must break you

[1990s+] (US black teen) a general phr. used to threaten an opponent or rival.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

break-ass (adv.) [-ass sfx]

[1960s] (US) at top speed.

break-away (n.)

[1910s+] (Aus./N.Z.) a person who has been ‘broken’, whether mentally or physically.

In phrases


see separate entries.

break-lurk (n.) (also brake) [lurk n. (1)]

[mid-19C] (UK Und.) a fraudulent begging letter, claiming a broken limb or ribs.

break-out (n.)

[late 19C+] (Aus./N.Z.) a bout of madness or drunkenness.

break... (v.)

see also under relevant n.

break a leg (v.)

see separate entry.

break a pudding (v.) [the result of one’s eating]

[20C+] (Irish) to belch.

break camp (v.)

[1970s+] (US campus) to hurry; to leave.

break me off (a piece)

[1980s+] (orig. US black) I want some, give me some.

break night (v.) [one ‘breaks through’ the night + ref. to the SE break of day]

[1960s+] (US) to stay up all night partying, talking, etc.

break-o’-day drum (n.) (also break o’ day house) [SE break-o’-day, dawn + drum n.3 (3)]

[late 19C] an all-night tavern.

break on (v.) (also break a breath) [one ‘breaks’ their image] [1930s+] (US black)

to humiliate someone in public.

break one’s/an ankle (v.) (also sprain one’s/an ankle) [euph.; orig. 18C–19C UK, 20C+ mainly in US; compare break a leg v.]

[late 18C+] to be seduced, to be pregnant out of wedlock.

break one’s arrow (v.) [the ‘arrrow’, i.e. a rigid penis, is thus ‘broken’]

[early 17C] of a man, to come to orgasm, to ejaculate.

break one’s ass (v.) (also birch one’s ass, break one’s arse, ...tail) [ass n. (2)/arse n. (1)/tail n. (1)]

[1930s+] to work extremely hard, to put in a great effort.

break one’s back (v.)

1. [mid-19C+] to stretch beyond one’s limits, esp. financially, to become bankrupt.

2. [1900s] (Aus.) to become excessively worried or emotional.

break one’s duck (v.) [cricket imagery]

[1980s+] (W.I.) to have an initial experience, usu. sexual.

break oneself (v.)

[2000s] (US black) to call oneself to attention.

break one’s gall (v.) [SE gall, bitterness]

[late 18C–early 19C] (UK Und.) to cheer up, esp. of one who has just arrived in prison and is still suitably dejected.

break one’s hump (v.)

[1930s+] (US) to make a special effort.

break one’s shins against Covent Garden rails (v.) [Covent Garden, London, being a centre of prostitution]

[late 18C–early 19C] to catch venereal disease.

break one’s shit string (v.) [shit n. (1a)]

[1960s+] (US gay) to have such vigorous anal intercourse that bleeding results.

break shins (v.) [Rus. tradition of beating the shins of those who refuse to pay their debts]

[late 17C–19C] to borrow money, esp. during an emergency, when one is forced to run from person to person in the hope of a loan; thus breaking shins/shin-breaking n., borrowing money.

break someone down (v.)

[1990s+] (US prison) to turn a fellow inmate into a homosexual.

break someone in (v.)

1. [1910s+] (Aus.) to deflower.

2. [1950s] to initiate a new prostitute.

3. [1970s+] (US gay/prison) to forcibly initiate a new inmate into homosexuality.

break someone in half (v.)

[2000s] (UK black) of a man, to have sexual intercourse in an extremely (and deliberately) violent manner.

break someone in two (v.)

[20C+] to beat someone up badly, to break their bones.

break someone off (v.)

[1990s+] (US black) to give, esp. to hand over drugs.

break someone’s ass (v.) [ass n. (2)]

1. [1950s+] (orig. US, also beat someone’s ass) to beat up, to attack physically.

2. [1960s+] (US) to harass, to nag, to annoy.

break someone’s face (v.)

see separate entry.

break someone’s hump (v.)

[1950s+] (US) to harass, to persecute, to cause problems for.

break the pale (v.) [SE pale, a limit, boundary; a restriction; a defence, safeguard]

[late 16C–early 17C] to commit adultery.

break the sound barrier (v.) [a pun on SE]

[1960s] (Can.) to break wind.

break water (v.) (also bust water)

[1990s+] (W.I.) of a man, to reach orgasm.

In exclamations

break a leg!

see separate entry.