Break The Ice – Meaning & Origin

Meaning:

Breaking down a social stiffness in order to make things more comfortable.

This phrase is sometimes used when two people are meeting for the first time and there’s a cold social awkwardness that exists between them. Once they start talking to each other and move past the initial awkward moments, then the “ice” has been broken.

Example: I have a brother named Carl, and he told me that his friends were coming over later today. I’ve never met them before, so I was nervous about all of this. However, once they arrived, it wasn’t long until we broke the ice.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. Lighten up
2. Make yourself feel at home
A large ship breaking through the ice.
This ship is breaking through the ice like a hot knife through butter!

The Origin of ‘Break The Ice’

Some may think that the phrase ‘break the ice’ comes from steam-powered icebreaker ships that were designed in the 1800s. These ships allow people to sail in the arctic regions of the world.

As the name suggests, these ships can navigate through ice-covered waters (depicted in the picture above), which can be quite challenging. However, by using the ship’s strengthened hull and powerful engine, these large vessels break the ice apart into smaller pieces, allowing the ship to pass right on through.

Having said that, this phrase does not originate from these big ships and here’s why:

This phrase actually precedes the creation of the icebreaker ships. It goes back to at least the 17th century. For example, this expression makes an early appearance in a poem by Samuel Butler, 1678, and there’s a line from the poem that reads:

“To give himself a first audience, After he had a while look’d wise, At last broken silence, and the ice.”

That means this phrase is at least 340 years old.


Example Sentences:

  1. Paul had to give a speech in front of a large crowd, but he was feeling very anxious. In order to break the ice with them, he planned to start his speech with a bit of humor.
  2. The ice was broken soon after they started talking.

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