Break a leg, Yao
文章来源: 文章作者: 发布时间:2009-04-03 03:04 字体: [ ]  进入论坛

Reader question:

In this sentence seen in a fan forum1 on the web – Go break a leg, Yao – "break a leg" is explained as "good luck", how come?

My comments:

Break a leg, Yao.

It's a scary thought, isn't it? Any time I see Yao Ming fall to the floor clutching his ankle (as he did two days ago in the Olympics opener against USA), I am scared.

Anyways, "break a leg" is an old idiom in Britain and America, meaning "good luck". Indeed, how come?

There are many theories as to its origin, the most plausible2 ones (to me) point to superstition3 and ancient theater.

In many cultures including Chinese, people don't always say "good luck" outright4 to someone about to embark5 on a journey or adventure. This is perhaps due to the fact that well-wishing notwithstanding, bad luck (accidents and so forth) does happen and so therefore in some cases, saying "good luck" outright becomes a bad omen6. It is as though, you see, in soliciting7 good luck, one wakens up the demons8 as well. Voodoo as it may sound, this is actually not inconsistent with human psychology9 (or common sense, sticking to the superstition side) – The more we look for something, the more elusive10 it sometimes becomes. That's why Taoists say: In trying to get it you don't get it; in not trying to get it you sometimes get it. In other words, don't try too hard.

On the other hand, therefore, to say "Break a leg" is like confronting the demons head-on – as though saying to the devils, I am aware you're there so don't bother playing mischief11 in an attempt to catch me off guard.

Another theory concerns British theater. After giving a good performance in ancient times, happy and satisfied audiences throw coins onstage to show their appreciation12. Actors then come back onstage, kneeling down, to collect the money. And when they kneel, they are said to be "breaking a leg (line)" – when one stands erect13, they have a straight leg line; when they curve their legs, the straight leg line is broken. Therefore, for actors to "break a leg", they have to have given a good performance.

"Break a leg" also denotes effort, as in "I may not get there in time, but I'll break a leg trying (to get there in time)". So "Break a leg, Yao", in addition to good luck, also suggests hard work, which Yao always gives, of course. Personally, however, when it comes to Yao, I prefer a plain nice "good luck" any time – the guy's had so many lower-leg injuries that "break a leg" just ceases to sound right. If Yao needs a break, he needs a good break.

Anyways, here are a few media examples of "break a leg":

1. Will Heather Mills McCartney 'Break a Leg'?

Bookies are taking bets on whether the artificial limb of Paul McCartney's soon-to-be ex-wife will fall off when she hits the dance floor March 19 for the new season of "Dancing With the Stars.", an online gaming site based in Antigua, opened bets Monday on the fate of McCartney's prosthetic, heavily favoring "no," Reuters reports.

The 39-year-old former model lost her left leg below the knee in a traffic accident in 1993.

"It's very, very unlikely my leg's going to fly off even though it would be quite funny to knock one of the judges out," she told the TV show "EXTRA" last week. "I'm hoping to show people that even with a prosthetic leg you can dance."

- AP, March 13, 2007.

2. 'Break a Leg' actor takes it literally14

Actor David Middleton was told ‘break a leg' before a 42-date theatre tour - and then tripped over a pavement outside his house.

David, 45, was forced to go on tour with his leg in plaster after shattering his ankle in the trip.

David said: "It's such an old tradition in the theatre that you should say break a leg before you go on - because it's bad luck to say good luck.

"But I never thought it would happen to me...."

- The Mirror, August 2, 2000.


1 forum cilx0     
  • They're holding a forum on new ways of teaching history.他们正在举行历史教学讨论会。
  • The organisation would provide a forum where problems could be discussed.这个组织将提供一个可以讨论问题的平台。
2 plausible hBCyy     
  • His story sounded plausible.他说的那番话似乎是真实的。
  • Her story sounded perfectly plausible.她的说辞听起来言之有理。
3 superstition VHbzg     
  • It's a common superstition that black cats are unlucky.认为黑猫不吉祥是一种很普遍的迷信。
  • Superstition results from ignorance.迷信产生于无知。
4 outright Qj7yY     
  • If you have a complaint you should tell me outright.如果你有不满意的事,你应该直率地对我说。
  • You should persuade her to marry you outright.你应该彻底劝服她嫁给你。
5 embark qZKzC     
  • He is about to embark on a new business venture.他就要开始新的商业冒险活动。
  • Many people embark for Europe at New York harbor.许多人在纽约港乘船去欧洲。
6 omen N5jzY     
  • The superstitious regard it as a bad omen.迷信的人认为那是一种恶兆。
  • Could this at last be a good omen for peace?这是否终于可以视作和平的吉兆了?
7 soliciting ca5499d5ad6a3567de18f81c7dc8c931     
v.恳求( solicit的现在分词 );(指娼妇)拉客;索求;征求
  • A prostitute was soliciting on the street. 一名妓女正在街上拉客。 来自《简明英汉词典》
  • China Daily is soliciting subscriptions. 《中国日报》正在征求订户。 来自《现代英汉综合大词典》
8 demons 8f23f80251f9c0b6518bce3312ca1a61     
n.恶人( demon的名词复数 );恶魔;精力过人的人;邪念
  • demons torturing the sinners in Hell 地狱里折磨罪人的魔鬼
  • He is plagued by demons which go back to his traumatic childhood. 他为心魔所困扰,那可追溯至他饱受创伤的童年。 来自《简明英汉词典》
9 psychology U0Wze     
  • She has a background in child psychology.她受过儿童心理学的教育。
  • He studied philosophy and psychology at Cambridge.他在剑桥大学学习哲学和心理学。
10 elusive d8vyH     
  • Try to catch the elusive charm of the original in translation.翻译时设法把握住原文中难以捉摸的风韵。
  • Interpol have searched all the corners of the earth for the elusive hijackers.国际刑警组织已在世界各地搜查在逃的飞机劫持者。
11 mischief jDgxH     
  • Nobody took notice of the mischief of the matter. 没有人注意到这件事情所带来的危害。
  • He seems to intend mischief.看来他想捣蛋。
12 appreciation Pv9zs     
  • I would like to express my appreciation and thanks to you all.我想对你们所有人表达我的感激和谢意。
  • I'll be sending them a donation in appreciation of their help.我将送给他们一笔捐款以感谢他们的帮助。
13 erect 4iLzm     
  • She held her head erect and her back straight.她昂着头,把背挺得笔直。
  • Soldiers are trained to stand erect.士兵们训练站得笔直。
14 literally 28Wzv     
  • He translated the passage literally.他逐字逐句地翻译这段文字。
  • Sometimes she would not sit down till she was literally faint.有时候,她不走到真正要昏厥了,决不肯坐下来。
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