"break a leg"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 23 07:12:54 UTC 2001

Another "true fact" or folk etymology, as the case may be.  This time
I couldn't find anything at all in Brewer's Phrase & Fable or the
OED, but again it strikes me as an unlikely, post-hoc
rationalization.  I don't find the purported meaning of "leg" in the
OED either, FWIW.  Any educated guesses?  (There's a variety of
speculative derivations at a web site on theatrical terminology,
http://www.ex.ac.uk/drama/tech/morebreakaleg.html, but none of these
involve a reference to the difficult task of "mak[ing] it
successfully out on to the stage" posited below.  I'd think the
default derivation is the one invoking a superstition or taboo, but
that's sheer speculation too.)


The term break a leg is referring to the curtains on the side of the
stage, which are behind the main curtain.  These are the "legs" so
breaking a leg means to make it successfully out on to the stage, and
then giving a good performance.  It has nothing to do with actual
legs or stomping instead of clapping.

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