Break the Ice

“Break the ice” is a common idiom that means to get past formalities to get something accomplished or to reach a relaxed attitude in a socially awkward situation.

Example:  David told a joke to break the ice at the beginning of the meeting.

Where did it come from?

This is another old nautical term; an allusion to forging a path through the ice for other boats to follow.  River cities and seaports depended on ships and boats to transport goods and could become cut off if winter ice became too thick.  Special vessels called “icebreakers” equipped for just the task were effective at breaking a path through the ice so trade could continue.  Hence, breaking the ice was the precursor to getting business accomplished.

The term “break the ice” first appeared in literature in 1579 as an allusion to doing business.  Sir Thomas North wrote in Plutarch’s Lives of the Nobel Grecians and Romanes:

“To be the first to break the Ice of the Enterprize.”

It wasn’t until the 17th century that it was used to apply to socially awkward situations.  Samuel Butler in 1678 wrote in Hudibras:

“The Oratour – At last broke silence, and the Ice.”

The meaning flip flopped during the next 200 years that followed, but now the most allusion is applied to social situations more often than business.

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2 responses to “Break the Ice

  1. I love this blog…why?
    I have a thirst for knowledge
    I quench it here (~_~)

    here is a saying I came up with and wonder if you have heard anything similar?

    “I am all over it like snow on a mountain…”
    meaning; something needs to be addressed, address it fully!

    • Zendictive, I’m tickled to know someone else enjoys discovery as much as I do, especially when it comes to words. I’ve not heard that phrase before, but I’ll add it to the list to be sure! Thank you so much for reading.

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