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Give me a break

Posted by James Briggs on August 19, 2010 at 09:40

In Reply to: Give me a break posted by ESC on August 18, 2010 at 23:00:

: : What is the origin of "give me a break"? It's used in American slang (at least in California) and I assume in the UK as well. I am not sure that it was in use when I was growing up in California in the 1950s and 1960s ... but it is a rather common expression today (at least in my generation). It's hard to define, perhaps a cross between "I don't believe it" and "That's just what I would expect." When you hear bad news, we often say it, "Give me a break" but the phrase has far wider and more subtle meaning than its literal meaning might imply.

: It's my theory that the phrase became popular after E.T. :

: Elliot: But, look, you can't tell. Not even Mom.
: Gertie: Why not?
: Elliot: Because, uh, grown-ups can't see him. Only little kids can see him.
: Gertie: Give me a break!

: One reference says "give me a break," meaning "that's preposterous, you can't expect me to believe that" dates back to the later part of the 1900s. “Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches,” second edition, edited by Christine Ammer, Checkmark Books, New York, 2006. Page 168. Which fits in nicely with my theory.

Here's what I found out a few years ago, but I can't recall my source or its veracity! It's not mentioned at all on Michael Quinnions site.
This goes back to the fact that a "break" was an interruption in a street performer's act used to collect money from the crowd. The term was taken up by the underworld where it came to mean the money collected for a felon on release from prison - he was given a break.
There is possibly a somewhat different origin for the apparently related saying "I've had a lucky break; in this instance it is likely that billiards or snooker is the basis.