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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The words we use » » Break A Leg (origins) (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

sirbrad
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On the Tony Danza show this morning they implied that 'break a leg' did not actually mean what most perceive it to mean, (To wish the worst on someone so that they in turn have good luck) but actually it means to 'take a bow while bending at the knee.' Anyone else ever hear of the more deeper ****ogies?

"From G A Michael: “What is the origin and meaning of the expression break a leg, said to persons who are preparing to appear in a theatrical production?”

[A] Of all theatrical superstitions, this attempt to ward off the forces of darkness by wishing one’s fellow performers the opposite of good luck is the one that’s perhaps best known outside the profession. It belongs with other superstitions, such as that it’s bad luck to whistle in a theatre, that you should never utter the final line of a play at the dress rehearsal, or that you must never say the name of the Scottish Play in the green room.

Actors have always been a superstitious bunch, as you might expect from a profession in which employment is sporadic, audiences fickle and reputations fragile.

The saying is widely used among actors and musicians in the theatre today, sometimes before every performance, but more often reserved for first night. Where it comes from has for decades been a source of dispute and I’ve collected the following speculations:

In earlier times, actors wished one another “may you break your leg”, in the hope that the performance would be so successful that the performer would be called forth to take a bow — to bend his knee.

At one time audiences showed their appreciation by throwing money on the stage; to pick the coins up, actors had to break their legs, that is, kneel or bend down.

The curtains on either side of a stage were called the legs, so that to pass through the legs was to make it out on to the stage ready to give a good performance, or perhaps expressing the hope that you will need to pass through them at the end of the show to take a curtain call, implying your performance had been good.

The saying really refers to getting one’s big break, that the performance will be good enough to ensure success in one’s career.

The famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt had a leg amputated in 1915, which didn’t stop her performing; it is considered good luck to mention her in the hope that some of her theatrical prowess will rub off by association.

John Wilkes Booth, the actor who assassinated President Lincoln, broke his leg when he jumped on to the stage to escape afterward. Somehow, reminding fellow actors of this event is supposed to lead to good luck in the performance.

We may discard all of these on the grounds of varying degrees of implausibility. A key factor is that most of the stories assume that break a leg is an old expression, whereas it’s actually quite modern. The earliest known example in print refers to a show with that title in 1957. The saying must, of course, be older for it to have been borrowed for the title and there is anecdotal evidence from theatrical memoirs and personal recollection that it has been around since the 1930s, but not before.

Germans say Hals- und Beinbruch, “neck and leg break”, as ways of wishing someone good luck without any fear of supernatural retaliation.

It is sometimes said that the German expression is actually a corruption of a Hebrew blessing hatzlakha u-brakha, “success and blessing”, which may have been borrowed via Yiddish. Whatever its source, the most plausible theory is that Hals- und Beinbruch was transferred into the American theatre (in which Yiddish- or German-speaking immigrant Jews were strongly represented) sometime after World War I."

[Thanks to Julane Marx for helping to research this piece.]
The great trouble with magicians is the fact that they believe when they have bought a certain trick or piece of apparatus, and know the method or procedure, that they are full-fledged mystifiers. -- Harry Houdini
BlackShadow
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It depends who you believe. Like many of these phrases that have crept into general usage there are plenty of urban myths speculating on the origins.

From elsewhere on the net:

This phrase dates back to the 1920's and is superstition against wishing an actor good luck. Many people think the origin comes from when in 1865 John Wilkes Booth, who was an actor, broke his leg while leaping to kill President Linoln during a play at the Ford's Theatre. But, this does not really seem like it is related to good luck. Some stage actors think it has to do with bending your knee when you bow, like at the end of a successful play.

In the original explanation the the bit about "anecdotal evidence from theatrical memoirs and personal recollection that it has been around since the 1930s," is all pretty vague. There's no hard avidence to actually disprove it wasn't around 50 years before that.
Jonathan Townsend
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If you give the matter some thought, it seems a safe command/directive which may help the performer be attentive to his stagework.
...to all the coins I've dropped here
Sid Mayer
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It is also possible to speculate that "break a leg" is a corruption of the expression to "make a leg" which refers to the sweeping bows once in fashion.
That's as may be. What I do know is that "break a leg" is not a wish that you make to a dancer.

Sid
All the world's a stage ... and everybody on it is overacting.
Dr_Stephen_Midnight
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It seems to matter little to most magicians, only a few of whom have formal theatre training. Most just say "good luck" like everyone else.

Steve
Dr. Lao: "Do you know what wisdom is?"
Mike: "No."
Dr. Lao: "Wise answer."
Jonathan Townsend
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Quote:
On 2005-01-09 17:46, Dr_Stephen_Midnight wrote:
It seems to matter little to most magicians, only a few of whom have formal theatre training. Most just say "good luck" like everyone else.

Steve


I saw Curtis Kam backstage before his lecture.
I offered him my best in the form of "drop a coin or two".

How can conjurers NOT have theatrical training?
...to all the coins I've dropped here
Dr_Stephen_Midnight
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FORMAL theatrical training (as in college or civic theatre), not just haphazard snippets picked up while performing magic.

Steve
Dr. Lao: "Do you know what wisdom is?"
Mike: "No."
Dr. Lao: "Wise answer."
wizardofsorts
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I was told by one of my Professors that the early Greeks would stomp their feet in a sign of appreciation for good acting and the phrase meant, "to get them to stomp their feet so hard they break a leg."
Edd
Edd Fairman, Wizard of Sorts is a corporate magician available for your next trade show, hospitality suite, client luncheon, or company event. http://www.wizardofsorts.com
Peter Marucci
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Actually, the phrase came from figure skating. Trouble was, Tonya Harding just took it too literally!
Laughing Otter
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Quote:
On 2005-01-09 17:46, Dr_Stephen_Midnight wrote:
It seems to matter little to most magicians, only a few of whom have formal theatre training. Most just say "good luck" like everyone else.

Steve

My friends have taken to wishing their fellow magicians a good performance by saying, "Break a thread".
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