Etymology: To Break The Ice


breaking ice

breaking ice (Photo credit: NapaneeGal)




I kicked off a new course this week. I always plan a few  activities that help people to relax at the first lesson. These activities are called icebreakers. That got me thinking. Where does this idiom come from? It is actually pretty intuitive to understand but when did people start using it as an idiom?

What does ‘To Break The Ice ‘mean?

To say or do something that helps people to relax and begin talking at a meeting, party, etc.  The corresponding noun is ‘icebreaker‘.

What is the etymology?

The ice in question is metaphorically that on a river or lake in early spring. To break the ice would be to allow boats to pass, marking the beginning of the season’s activity after the winter freeze. In this way, this expression has been connected to the start of enterprise for abour 400 years.

How do we use it in context?

  • I broke the ice by telling them about my hometown.
  • Playing 20Questions is a nice way to break the ice at a lesson.
  • What icebreakers do you use to start a meeting?

Can you repeat the sentences you hear?


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