AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: "Slangman" David Burke explains some of the many uses for the word "break."
RS: He's brought along a letter filled to the breaking point with examples.
DAVID BURKE: "'Dear Slangman, I need your advice. Here's the story that just broke today. Well, this morning I had a real breakthrough, so let me break it down for you. Today I finally broke up with my boyfriend because he had some really annoying characteristics.
"'For example, he's always broke. He breaks our dates. And he always breaks into conversations that don't involve him. I finally broke down and broke up with him, which made him break down and then break out in hives. I didn't mean to break his heart, but give me a break -- he's so rude! I know I should be breaking out the champagne now -- now that I broke it off. But I feel guilty and my voice breaks every time I talk about it. Do you think I did the right thing?'
"So within that one letter, we have about ten different uses of the word break. And what's interesting to Americans, we don't even realize how many times we use these two- and three-word phrasal verbs. If somebody's fighting, we'll say 'Hey, break it up.' Well, that just simply means 'Stop it.'
"So let's go through here and kind of explore some of these words:
"'Here's a story that just broke today.' We hear this on the news all the time. A breaking story. It means a story that just became known, that just happened. So we hear that a lot. 'This morning I had a breakthrough.' A breakthrough means a revelation, something I wasn't aware of, and now I had a breakthrough, a sudden understanding."
AA: "And that's one word, right? That's sort of an exception -- "
DAVID BURKE: "Right."
AA: " -- because breakthrough is one word."
RS: "But it has the word break in it."
DAVID BURKE: "Break is definitely in it. And certainly just the word break alone has slang definitions. 'Today I got my big break,' which means my big opportunity. And, of course, the word break simply means to destroy something. But we can use just the word break in slang. Break is a really wonderful word because you can use it in so many ways, not just as slang but to attach it to other prepositions, like a breakthrough.
"Which is why we're breaking this down right now. So 'we're breaking it down,' this one is a little confusing. To break it down means to dissect it so we can really examine it. But you can also say to break down. To break down means to no longer function. For example, if you're driving to work and your car goes ksss-ksss-ksss-kshhhhh, you're car broke down. But a person can have a breakdown. That means your emotions are just so strong, you're so upset, you start crying, you're having a breakdown.
"'So today I finally broke up with my boyfriend.' Well, when you're in a relationship, you can either break up with a person or you can break it off. Both mean to end a relationship. Now, when you say that somebody is broke, here we go again with the word break as slang. To be broke means to have no money.
"'My boyfriend is always broke, and he always breaks our dates.' To break a date means to call somebody at the last second and say 'You know what? We have to cancel the date.' And 'my boyfriend always breaks into conversation.' When you break into a conversation, it means you interrupt. To break into a conversation. So basically you're breaking the other person's conversation."
AA: "Which is different from breaking into song."
DAVID BURKE: "Right, to break into song! [Laughter] To break into song -- I'll do it now. That means to suddenly explode into singing. Very good. I love that one, to break into song. We also we have here, this girls says 'I finally broke down and broke up with him.' So to break down not only means to stop functioning, it not only means to be so emotional you just start crying, you break down with emotion, but to break down also means to give up.
"'I couldn't stand it anymore and I gave up. I broke down and said I'm going to break up with you.' Or if, for example, a child says to his mother 'Can I have another cookie, can I have another cookie, please, please, please?' And the mother finally says 'OK, OK, I broke down and gave my child another cookie. So it means to give in, which of course is another phrasal verb, to give in, to surrender."
RS: David "Slangman" Burke will break down the rest of that letter next week. He's the author of more than 60 language books. You can learn more popular slang and idioms that Americans use every day at Slangman.com.
AA: And that's WORDMASTER for this week. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.
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