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 told me that his friends were coming over soon. I’ve never met them before, so I was nervous. However, once they arrived, it wasn’t long until we broke the ice.

Synonyms / Related: lighten up, making oneself feel at home

Phrase - Break The Ice
Some ships have to break through the ice in order to get from place to place. 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 (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, these ships are not the source of this phrase’s origin and here’s why:

The 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. 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 this means the phrase is at least 340 years old.

Sentence Examples:

  • Paul had to give a speech in front of a large crowd. Understandably, he was feeling very 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.

Note: If you are finished reading about this phrase, you can use the menu at the top to find hundreds more. You can learn all about what they mean and where they come from. If you can’t find one in particular, consider dropping me an e-mail with suggestions.

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