Green’s Dictionary of Slang

break v.1

1. to render someone impoverished.

[UK]T. Lucas Lives of the Gamesters (1930) 148: He follow’d cards and dice as much as ever, ’till they broke him. [Ibid.] 219: At last, having broke all the gamesters, he departed with his pockets full of gold.
[US]G. Thompson Anna Mowbray 9: The big negro had ‘broke’ the little white boy, with whom he had been playing ‘penny bluff,’ that is, had won all his money from him.
[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 46: I want you to break Rathbon and Clarke — they are too greedy for my use.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 6 Jun. 22/2: The tales they told of widows, wives, / The rum they’d drink, the peeler’s drub! / The hands they’d hold up at ‘forty-fives’ / Would break a bank – they broke the Club.
[US]A.H. Lewis Confessions of a Detective 4: Having at that time both a high temper and a low cash balance—for the clothes broke me—I said I’d fight.
[UK]Marvel 3 Mar. 2: You’ve pretty well broke me between you.
[US]C. McKay Home to Harlem 64: The lawyers [...] cleaned him out dry. Done broke him, that case did.
[US]C. Himes ‘Let Me at the Enemy’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 36: Twenty-five bucks ain’t gonna break a man.
[US]J.T. Farrell ‘Milly and the Porker’ in Amer. Dream Girl (1950) 198: ‘Don’t break yourself,’ Mike said.
[US]C. Himes Big Gold Dream 105: Just give me thirty dollars [...] It ain’t going to break you.
D.H. Edwards The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing 161: He went with me to a skin game. I broke everybody that night—I won all the money.
[Aus]M.B. ‘Chopper’ Read Chopper 4 56: The Supreme Court appeal against my sentence broke me.

2. to become impoverished.

[UK]Defoe Roxana (1982) 46: The Disaster I mention’d above befel my Brother; who Broke.
[UK]Foote The Bankrupt II ii: It is the duty of every honest merchant to break once at least in his life.
[UK]Thrale Thraliana i 15 Mar. 591: Lawrence the Man who keeps, No—who kept the Bear at the Devizes a Bad Inn where he broke some time ago—now reads Lectures on Oratory.
[UK]G. Colman Yngr Poor Gentleman III i: A speculation with her fur, flax [...] linen and leather. And what’s the consequence? thirteen months ago, he broke.
[UK]Punch 14 Mar. 181/3: ‘Who breaks pays.’ Evidently a mistake. A man ‘breaks’ because he can’t pay.

3. (Aus.) to cost, e.g. that’ll break for five dollars.

[Aus]N. Pulliam I Travelled a Lonely Land (1957) 230/2: break – to cost.

In phrases

I must break you

(US black teen) a general phr. used to threaten an opponent or rival.

Phat Cats 🌐 Cheap Insults/Comebacks: Take a chill pill. / Don’t look at me in that tone of voice! / I resemble that remark! / I must break you. / How can you look at me with that face?

SE in slang uses

In compounds

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

(US) at top speed.

[UK](con. WWII) W. Stevens Gunner 63: They got some motherin big idea. Them mechanics’re working breakass down the line.
break-away (n.)

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

[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 132/2: Aus. [...] since ca. 1910.

In phrases

break-and-take (n.)

(US und.) a robbery, a ‘smash-and-grab’.

[US]L. Berney Whiplash River [ebook] ‘I was a wheelman. The only thing I know about a break-and-take is how to drive away from one’.

see separate entries.

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

(UK Und.) a fraudulent begging letter, claiming a broken limb or ribs.

[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 313/1: How much do you charge for screeving a ‘brake?’.
[UK]Partridge DU 71/1: break lurk, the An illicit means of livelihood, the practiser pretending to have had limbs and/or ribs broken.
break-out (n.)

(Aus./N.Z.) a bout of madness or drunkenness.

[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 67: He saw him once in one of his break-outs, and heard him boast of something he’d done.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 34: breakout [...] 2. A C20 boozing spree, sometimes to the extent of vandalism. ANZ.
break... (v.)

see also under relevant n.

break a leg (v.)

see separate entry.

break camp (v.)

(US campus) to hurry; to leave.

[US]P. Conroy Great Santini (1977) 453: It was as though his father had received orders in the night and the Meecham family had broken camp [...] abandoned their house and all their friends.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Mar. 2: break camp – leave.
Online Sl. Dict. 🌐 break camp v 1. to hurry. (‘Come on, guys, break camp!’).
break me off (a piece)

(orig. US black) I want some, give me some.

[US]A. Heckerling Clueless [film script] Break me off a piece of that [i.e. an attractive man].
[US]‘Touré’ Portable Promised Land (ms.) 158: We Words (My Favorite Things) [...] Gimmie some skin. Break me off. Break it down.
break night (v.) [one ‘breaks through’ the night + ref. to the SE break of day]

(US) to stay up all night partying, talking, etc.

[US]P. Thomas Down These Mean Streets (1970) 58: You meet your boys and make it to a jump, where you can break night dancing.
[US](con. 1985–90) P. Bourjois In Search of Respect 94: At first even if we broke night [stayed awake partying all night], the next day I went to my job.
[US]A.N. LeBlanc Random Family 69: Countless times, Cesar and Rocco broke night on the street.
break-o’-day drum (n.) (also break o’ day house) [SE break-o’-day, dawn + drum n.3 (3)]

an all-night bar-cum-cheap restaurant.

[US]Matsell Vocabulum 14: break-o’-day drum A place for the sale of liquor, that never closes day or night.
[US]N.E. Police Gaz. (Boston, MA) 18 Aug. 6/1: Break o’ Day Houses [...] are generally to be found in the immediate vicinity of the markets [i.e. in NY] [...] The doors are never closed and business is constantly in progress. There is a liquor bar and a large [...] restaurant. The bar does the most business.
[US]H.L. Williams Gay Life in N.Y. 64: ‘What are Break o’ Day Houses?’ asked Harry [...] ‘Houses which keep open all night.’.
[UK]Barrère & Leland Dict. of Sl., Jargon and Cant.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 11: Break o’Day Drum, an all night tavern.
break on (v.) (also break a breath) [one ‘breaks’ their image] (US black)

to humiliate someone in public.

[US]Z.N. Hurston Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1995) 43: Youse mah race but you sho ain’t mah taste. Jus’ you break uh breath wid me, and Ahm goin’ tuh be jus’ too chastisin’.
[US](con. 1982–6) T. Williams Cocaine Kids (1990) 87: I didn’t mean to break on her like that, but that’s what she deserved.
[US]P. Beatty Tuff 125: Carter breaking on Tuffy so hard he has to stop and catch his breath.
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.]

to be seduced, to be pregnant out of wedlock.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]‘Suzan Aked’ The Simple Tale of Suzan Aked 169: The child was born dead [...] and luckily her parents believed her story about spraining her ankle.
[US]R.A. Wilson Playboy’s Book of Forbidden Words 49: Broke Her Ankle. Middle-class code for a woman having gotten pregnant out of wedlock, or, in some parts of the country, having had an abortion.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 309: Variations on this theme, all casting the event in terms of an accident, include sprain (or break) an ankle.
break one’s arrow (v.) [the ‘arrrow’, i.e. a rigid penis, is thus ‘broken’]

of a man, to come to orgasm, to ejaculate.

[UK]Machin & Markham Dumbe Knight II i: Indeed mistresse, if my master should breake his arrow with foule shooting or so, I would bee glad if mine might supply the whole [sic].
break one’s ass (v.) (also birch one’s ass, break one’s arse, ...tail) [ass n. (2)/arse n. (1)/tail n. (1)]

to work extremely hard, to put in a great effort.

[US]S.J. Perelman letter 31 Oct. in Crowther Don’t Tread on Me (1987) 6: I have been so bust birching my ass to squeeze out my monthly stint.
[Ire](con. 1880–90s) S. O’Casey I Knock at the Door 31: He had to cut the sthring, said a voice a little nearer, to separate the bad blind eye from the good one, an’ now he’s breakin’ his arse to cut the blind one out altogether.
[US](con. 1944) N. Mailer Naked and Dead 289: What’re we breaking our asses for.
[US]Kerouac On the Road (The Orig. Scroll) (2007) 352: You’ve seen me try and break my ass to make it.
[US]D. Dressler Parole Chief 15: You don’t want to be breaking your tail over these bastards.
[US]W.P. McGivern Big Heat 106: We break our tails getting here, so he’s late.
[US]H.S. Thompson letter 16 Feb. in Proud Highway (1997) 320: Mailer has broken his ass and his nose and all his rabbit ears trying to prove how much a better man and boxer he is than Hemingway.
[US]N. Thornburg Cutter and Bone (2001) 79: So naturally he broke his ass for me, told me all he could.
[US]A. Schulman 23rd Precinct 102: ‘I find it absolutely absurd,’ she says angrily, ‘after I broke my ass [along] with all the females who broke down barriers’.
break one’s back (v.)

1. to stretch beyond one’s limits, esp. financially, to become bankrupt.

[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 84: ‘break one’s back’ a figurative expression, implying bankruptcy, or the crippling of a person’s means.
[UK]Sl. Dict.

2. (Aus.) to become excessively worried or emotional.

[Aus]H. Lawson ‘A Sketch of Mateship’ in Roderick (1972) 466: Well, don’t break yer back about it.
break one’s duck (v.) [cricket imagery]

(W.I.) to have an initial experience, usu. sexual.

[UK]Times 25 Aug. 11: A widowed lady 109 years old flew in an aeroplane for the first time. She had clearly decided that, having waited so long to break her duck, she ought to do it in style.
[WI]Francis-Jackson Official Dancehall Dict. 8: Bruk-mi-ducks one’s very first experience, usually sexually (reference to moving off the mark – ducks – in cricket).
[UK](con. 1981) A. Wheatle East of Acre Lane 287: He might get his t’ings tonight an’ break his duck.
[Ire]P. Howard Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress 33: The night I broke my duck with Tina.
break oneself (v.)

(US black) to call oneself to attention.

[US]Ebonics Primer at 🌐 break oneself Definition: 1. to heed to one’s calling for attention. 2. to be aroused to a higher sense of awareness. Example: Break yoself bitch...dis a jack move!!
break one’s hump (v.)

(US) to make a special effort.

[US]E. O’Brien One Way Ticket 55: These guys don’t seem to be breakin’ their hump. Look at ’em. Just loafin’ along.
[US]Pittsburgh Press (PA) 5 July Mag. 12/3: Everybody was breaking his hump to make a buck.
[US]G. Cuomo Among Thieves 437: It don’t really look like anybody is exactly breaking their hump getting any breakfast to us.
[US](con. 1949) J.G. Dunne True Confessions (1979) 232: When’s the last time Robbery-Homicide broke its hump for a dead Mex?
Pittsburgh Post-Gaz. (PA) 20 Aug. 21/5: Wadkins was breaking his hump trying to catch Trevino.
[US]Hartford Courant (CT) 19 July B11/6: This has nothing to do with the guy breaking his hump out there on I-95.
break one’s shins against Covent Garden rails (v.) [Covent Garden, London, being a centre of prostitution]

to catch venereal disease.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: He broke his Shins against Covent Garden Rails, i.e. he caught a Clap.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (2nd, 3rd edn) n.p.: He broke his shins against Covent Garden rails; he caught the venereal disorder.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
break one’s shit string (v.) [shit n. (1a)]

(US gay) to have such vigorous anal intercourse that bleeding results.

[US] (ref. to late 1960s) B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 89: to fuck hard and fast [...] break one’s shit string (kwn black sl, late ’60s: to fuck so violently that the anus bleeds afterwards).
break shins (v.) [Rus. tradition of beating the shins of those who refuse to pay their debts]

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.

[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Breaking shins, borrowing of money.
[UK]A. Smith Lives of Most Notorious Highway-men, etc. (1926) 203: Breaking shins, borrowing of money.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Breaking shins, borrowing money; perhaps from the figurative operation being like the real one extremely disagreeable to the patient.
[UK]G. Andrewes Dict. Sl. and Cant.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict. n.p.: Breaking shins borrowing money.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[US]Matsell Vocabulum 79: shin-breaking Borrowing money.
[UK]Morn. Post 9 Dec. 3/4: ‘Breaking shins,’ in City slang, is borrowing money.
[US]Schele De Vere Americanisms 632: In financial slang, Americans use the verb to shin simply, where the English use to break shins, to denote a desperate effort to procure money in an emergency by running about to friends and acquaintances.
[US]Dly Dispatch (Richmond, VA) 1 Nov. 3/3: A cove is at ‘high tide’ [...] when he has plenty of money, while he is ‘shin-breaking’ when he has to borrow.
break someone down (v.)

(US prison) to turn a fellow inmate into a homosexual.

[US]N. McCall Makes Me Wanna Holler (1995) 195: That guy was even more of a man if he could ‘flip’ another man, turn him into a homosexual. They also called it ‘breaking him down’.
break (someone) in (v.)

1. to deflower.

[UK]Memoirs of [...] Jane D****s 74: How often, said the colonel, have you sold this girl’s maidenhead. As G—d’s my judge, answered Jenny, she has has never yet been broke.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 19 Nov. 14/1: Combos will pay any possible price for a clean gin, because of their awful superstition that if they can be the first to ‘break her in’ they will cure themselves by passing the disease on to her. So children only eight or 10 years of age are bought by these brutes and outraged.
[US] Transcript Foster Inq. in L.R. Murphy Perverts by Official Order (1989) 57: Did Brunelle still claim [...] that he had claimed to have ‘broken in’ Fowler?
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 32: He broke me in, taught me how to smoke, how to boost (steal).
[US]P.J. Wolfson Bodies are Dust (2019) [ebook] ‘They’ll [i.e. Jewish men] never break in a Jewish girl and they think it’s smart and funny to break in a Gentile girl’.
[US]W. Brown Teen-Age Mafia 71: The girl Connie was in for the works [...] Dum Dum might as well break her in.
[US](con. 1944) E.M. Nathanson Dirty Dozen (2002) 234: Fresh young poontang [...] alookin fust fuh Ahchuh Magit t’break em in.
[US]S. King Dreamcatcher 343: Just wondering if you got your share of that girl – you know, the one Frankie broke in. Did he give you sloppy seconds?

2. to initiate a new prostitute.

[US]‘Ed Lacy’ Men from the Boys (1967) 101: A friend of Harold’s is breaking her in and since Florence was sick tonight, Harold sent her.

3. (US gay/prison) to forcibly initiate a new inmate into homosexuality.

[US]B. Rodgers Queens’ Vernacular 155: If [...] the boy is said to be fruit for the monkey[s] and probably will be broken in, be made fag [girl, punk] or put (pulled down).
[US]W. Henderson City of Nightmares pt 2 v: Buddies trying to give you goodies just to break you in.
break someone in half (v.)

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

[US]Ebonics Primer at 🌐 break in half Definition: to have sex and make the girl bleed. Example: Yo I could break that bitch in half.
break someone in two (v.)

to beat someone up badly, to break their bones.

[UK]Guardian 26 Jun. 🌐 On one occasion [he] phoned the plaintiff during his daughter’s birthday party, swearing and threatening to ‘break him in two’.
break someone off (v.)

(US black) to give, esp. to hand over drugs.

[US]Dr Dre ‘Fuck Wit Dre Day’ 🎵 Breakin all you suckaz off somethin real proper like.
[US]A. Mansbach ‘Crown Heist’ in Brooklyn Noir 128: Can you bring Jamal this package for me? I’ll break you off.
break someone’s ass (v.) [ass n. (2)]

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

[US]‘Hal Ellson’ Tomboy (1952) 128: Bitch, when I catch you, I’ll break your ass!
[US]E. Hunter ‘See Him Die’ in Jungle Kids (1967) 103: Show me a guy’s bowing to the White God and I break his ass for him.
[US]C. Brown Manchild in the Promised Land (1969) 44: If I ever heard of him [...] talkin’ back to that nice little Jew-lady again, I was gonna break his natural-born ass.
J. Bouton I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Personally 100: The worst part was that we were [...] losing games [...] getting our asses beaten.
[UK]J. Bradner Danny Boy 113: You-all niggers! Ah-we coolie gon brock ah-you rass.
[US]Snoop Doggy Dogg ‘For All My Niggaz & Bitches’ 🎵 And that’s 175 pounds of beat / beatin yo’ ass down to the concrete.

2. (US) to harass, to nag, to annoy.

[US](con. 1960s) R. Price Wanderers 104: Eugene had already been sent to his office four times [...] and Mulligan would break his ass.
[US]Fidrych & Clark No Big Deal 224: [Y]ou could get traded. [...] And then they’d want to beat your ass, the next day!
break someone’s face (v.)

see separate entry.

break someone’s hump (v.)

(US) to harass, to persecute, to cause problems for.

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 33/2: Break one’s hump. [...] 2. See Break one’s balls.
[US]F. Paley Rumble on the Docks (1955) 17: If they [i.e. the police] see the three of us knocking around, they gonna break our hump.
[US]E. Torres After Hours 139: Who is David Kleinfeld and why is he breakin’ my hump this way?
[US]P. Roth Human Stain 227: Coming on top of everything else it breaks my fucking hump.
break the pale (v.) [SE pale, a limit, boundary; a restriction; a defence, safeguard]

to commit adultery.

[UK]Shakespeare Comedy of Errors II i: Too unruly deer, he breaks the pale, And feeds from home; poor I am but his stale.
break the sound barrier (v.) [a pun on SE]

(Can.) to break wind.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 132/2: ca. 1960.
break water (v.) (also bust water)

(W.I.) of a man, to reach orgasm.

[WI]Francis-Jackson Official Dancehall Dict. 7: Bruk [...] 2. an orgasm: u. A bruk some water, star. [Ibid.] Bus’ water ejaculate.

In exclamations

break a leg!

see separate entry.