A-Z Popular Blog Myth Search »

6 Origins of Break A Leg

Break a leg is a dead metaphor and English idiom that means good luck. This has strong links to theatre and is a traditional way to wish a performer luck before a performance. The following are probable origins of the phrase.

Golden Age of Theatre

The first sources that reference the phrase break a leg appear in the 1920s in reference to theatrical performances. Robert Wilson Lynd referenced "May you break your leg!" in an October 1921 article about superstition in the theatre and horse racing. This was a time of thriving theatre scenes, particularly in America where Vaudeville and Broadway experienced a golden age inspired by competition from silent movies.

Dead Metaphor

Break a leg is a dead metaphor meaning that it was originally a metaphor but this meaning has been dropped such that it now directly means good luck in English.


There are hundreds of superstitions in dozens of cultures that relate to bad luck being caused by saying positive things or making positive predictions. For example, the practice of knocking on wood after saying something positive to ward off bad luck. This is of ancient origins and has variants in dozens of languages. In this context, break a leg likely emerged as a means to wish people good luck without triggering this superstitious sense that saying positive things is unlucky.

Theatre Culture

The theory that break a leg is a way to avoid saying "good luck" is supported by the culture surrounding theatrical performances that strongly embraces superstition such as the belief that saying "Macbeth" in a theatre will trigger profound bad luck.

Neck and Leg Break

The German phrase "Hals- und Beinbruch" meaning "neck and leg break" was used in WWI by German pilots to wish each other good luck. This may have been based on earlier German hunting traditions that used the same phrase. Hals- und Beinbruch is a play on the similarly sounding Yiddish "Hatsloche un Broche" that means success and blessings. It is possible that this German phrase is the origin of the English idiom.

Implausible Theories

As the root origin of break a leg is unknown, there are numerous theories as to its origin. For example, the idea that break a leg was a metaphor to bowing and curtsying to the audience because you receive applause. This is implausible because the earliest references to the phrase explicitly mention that the phrase "good luck" was considered unlucky in the culture of theatre such that break a leg was an ironical substitution.


This is the complete list of articles we have written about myth.
Break A Leg
If you enjoyed this page, please consider bookmarking Simplicable.


Robert Wilson Lynd. "A Defence of Superstition", The New Statesman, October 1, 2021.


The definition of myth with examples.

How The World Became Fiction

A theory of innovation and storytelling.

This Too Shall Pass

The origin of the phrase this too shall pass.

Life Is Fair

An overview of the idea that life is fair with examples.


An overview of atmosphere with examples.

Through The Looking Glass

The meaning of the phrase through the looking glass.


An overview of culture.

Sense Of Place

The definition of sense of place with examples.


The definition of conformity with examples.


The definition of authenticity with examples.


An overview of the major types of food.

Shy vs Reserved

The difference between shy and reserved behavior explained.

Middle Class

The definition of middle class with examples.

Cultural Heritage

The definition of cultural heritage with examples.


The definition and common characteristics of postmodernism.


The definition of individualism with examples.
The most popular articles on Simplicable in the past day.

New Articles

Recent posts or updates on Simplicable.
Site Map