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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Break a Leg

Situation #1
Martha:  I’ve been practicing all week.  I have a concert tonight.
Sam: I hope you break a leg.
Martha: Thanks!

Situation #2
Sarah: I’m excited to go to the theater tonight and see your performance.  I love Romeo and Juliet.
Terry:  It’s a very dramatic story.  I have been in this play before, but it is the first time for me to play Mercutio. 
Sarah: I can’t wait to see how you do it.
Terry:  Thanks.  He’s a difficult character.
Sarah: Break a leg.
Terry:  Thanks so much. I appreciate that.

Meaning:  “Break a leg” doesn’t seem like a good thing to say to anyone but it actually means “Good Luck” or “Do a great job!”  This idiom is commonly used in the world of stage performance and it is said to a person before a performance.  It seems that the speaker is wishing the performer to have an accident on stage, but in fact, it is the opposite.  The speaker is telling the performer to have an outstanding performance.

This is a very old idiom whose exact origins are not known. In the tradition of theater as well as in horse racing, there was a superstition that if you wish out loud for something good to happen, then the opposite will happen instead.  So it’s best to wish someone a bad thing, like break a leg, so that the person will have the opposite – a good thing.  People say: “I hope you break a leg” so that good luck will come to the person.

One theory is that when a performance is so great, then the performer has to take many bows when the show ends.  In a bow like a curtsy, one must put a leg behind the other and bend it while bowing. So it looks similar to a broken leg next to the straight one.