Break The Ice – Meaning & Origin


Break the ice is a common phrase that means to break down a social stiffness in order for things to be 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: My brother Carl has friends coming over soon and I’m nervous because I’ve never met them before. However, once they arrived, it wasn’t long until we broke the ice.

Synonyms / Similar Phrases:

1. Lighten the mood

Phrase - Break The Ice
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Some ships have to break through the ice to get to their destination. Is this where the phrase comes from?

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 make it easier for people to sail in the arctic regions of the world.

As the name suggests, these ships can navigate through ice-covered waters (see 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.

That being said, these ships are not the source of this phrase’s origin and here’s why:

This phrase actually goes back to at least the 17th century, which precedes the creation of the icebreaker ships. For example, this expression makes an early appearance in a poem by Samuel Butler, 1678. 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.”

So that means this phrase is at least 340 years old.

Sentence Examples:

  • Paul was moments away from giving a speech to a large crowd. Understandably, he felt anxious. In order to break the ice with them, he planned to start his speech with some humor.
  • The ice was broken soon after they started talking.

Tip: If you are finished reading about this phrase, you can use the menu at the top to find hundreds more. Learn all about them, including what they mean and where they came from.

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