English Idioms

break a leg !

How come this idiom means "good luck" ?
of course, "a" is not "your", but still....

Thanks for your help...


  • That idiom comes from the theater.
    Actors like a lot of other people are easily superstitious, all the more so as they are about to step onto the stage. Since there is sort of a taboo at not telling them "good luck!" that is considered to be likely to make the opposite effect.
    Like in French people say "Bonne merde" (= have a good shit.), English speaking people tell the actor about to step on stage "Break a leg", short for "I hope you break a leg" meaning "Be sucessfull in your performance".

    Now, as you pointed it out, why A leg and not YOUR leg? I don't think it is because the comedian could break the leg of any other comedian.
    I don't know. We should investigate further.
    Or someone else well informed could enlighten that point.
  • I find it very interesting to read your statements.

    In German we say "Hals- und Beinbruch" (not only the leg but also the neck) which means "Good luck!" too. Is it an international habit to wish somebody good luck by saying the opposite? In www.wikipedia.org you can find many theories about the origin (Greek, Roman, Jiddish, Polish, German...)
  • Thanks to you both.
    Do you know if there is, concerning English idioms, the equivalent of the book by Claude Duneton about the history of French idioms ?
    Thanks again.
  • Sorry not being able to give you an author like Claude Duneton or his books like "Le puce a l'oreille" or "le bouquet des expressions imaginees" for your English idiom research.
    But perhaps you would successfully read in www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/index.html to identify the origin of your english idioms in question.
    Good Luck,

  • Thanks Gwendo
    and I found an "Harrap's idioms" which gives English and American idioms,
    with their translation and sometimes where they come from.

Please sign in to leave a comment.