Why Do Actors Say “Break a Leg”? 

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  • Why Do Actors Say “Break a Leg”?

    This expression is normally said right before a performance

    (By Javier Guerra)

    (Photo: Victoria Akvarel | Pexels)

    If you’re new to acting, do be alarmed if someone tells you to “break a leg”. I can (almost) assure you that they don’t work for the mob and are not planning to break your legs over an unpaid debt. I can also (almost) assure you that they don’t wish physical harm will come to you.

    If someone tells you to break a leg, they are saying it with good intentions; the best, in fact! You should thank them for saying it! Because what they’re actually doing is wishing you good luck.

    No one knows exactly when performing artists began using this phrase. But what we do know is that “break a leg” gets its origins from the superstitions of early theatre. The idea is that telling someone to have “good luck” will ultimately bring them the opposite of good luck. It will “jinx” them.

    (Photo: Victoria Akvarel | Pexels)

    It’s the same idea as not wanting to get too excited about passing an important exam or not wanting to get too excited about going on a date. You don’t want to “jinx” it.

    So, rather than wishing someone “good luck”, actors began wishing each other bad luck – i.e., “break a leg” – in hopes that the opposite will happen and they will, instead, have good luck in their performance.

    This expression is normally said right before a performance, just as an actor is about to go onstage. And it may go something like:

    “Don’t be nervous, alright. Break a leg!”

    “Tonight’s the big night. Good luck out there. Or shall I say, “Break a leg!”

    The expression is also sometimes used before an actor goes in for an audition. In this way, the phrase becomes a funny play on words. Because, if you “break a leg” in the audition, you might end up in a “cast”; as in, you might end up becoming a member of the cast.

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