break the back of: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘break the back of’ mean?

The idiom "break the back of" means to complete the most difficult or challenging part of a task or project. It refers to overcoming the most substantial or essential aspect, often implying that the rest will be more manageable.

Idiom Explorer

Idiom's Intriguing Intention

The idiom "break the back of" is an interesting phrase with several different meanings and interpretations. One of its primary meanings is to complete the most difficult or substantial part of a task or endeavor. This usage suggests that the most challenging aspect of a task has been overcome, and the rest should be comparatively easier. It's like breaking the back of a challenging project - once you've conquered the toughest part, the rest is smooth sailing.

The origin of the idiom "break the back of" can be traced back to the early 19th century. The metaphorical use of "back" in this sense is likely derived from the physical meaning of the word, referring to the spine or the central support structure of the body. By extension, "breaking the back" of a task or a person conveys the idea of overcoming the most fundamental or essential part, just as breaking the spine would render a body immobile.

In the context of completing a task, "break the back of" often implies a significant effort or a crucial step that leads to successful completion. For example, one might say, "I worked all night and finally broke the back of the project." This usage also suggests a sense of relief and progress, indicating that the most difficult part of the project has been accomplished, and the remainder will be more manageable in comparison. It's like breaking one's back to achieve a goal - putting in the necessary hard work and effort to reach success.

On the other hand, when the idiom is used to weaken or disable someone or something, it carries a more negative connotation. This interpretation is often employed in political or military contexts. For instance, one might say, "The economic sanctions have broken the back of the enemy's regime." In this case, the idiom suggests a significant blow to the strength or vitality of the targeted entity, making it vulnerable or unable to continue functioning effectively. It's like breaking someone's back to defeat them - crippling their power and rendering them helpless.

She tackled the challenge and achieved ultimate triumph.

The idiom "break one's back" has a similar connotation to "break the back of". It refers to the act of putting in intense effort and hard work in order to accomplish something. When someone breaks their back to achieve a goal, they are showing extreme dedication and determination. It's like someone breaking their own back to reach success - going above and beyond to make their dreams a reality.

Another related idiom is "break someone's back". This phrase is often used to describe an action that severely weakens or defeats someone or something. When someone breaks someone's back, they are metaphorically causing significant harm or damage to the person or thing. It's like breaking a person's back to ensure their defeat - delivering a devastating blow that leaves them powerless.

Similarly, the idiom "break one's neck" conveys a sense of urgency and intense effort. When someone breaks their neck to accomplish something, they are pushing themselves to the limit and working at a rapid pace. It's like someone breaking their neck to meet a deadline - doing everything they can to get the job done in time.

The idiom "break the buck" is a different interpretation of the word "break" in a figurative sense. It refers to the act of taming or training a wild animal, such as a horse or a deer, by breaking its spirit and making it submissive. When someone breaks the buck, they are exerting control and dominance over the animal. It's like someone breaking the buck to establish authority - asserting their power and gaining the animal's trust.

Lastly, the idiom "break it to" is used when delivering bad news or unpleasant information to someone in a gentle or careful manner. When someone breaks it to another person, they are being considerate and sensitive in their approach. It's like breaking the news to someone gently - delivering the information in a way that softens the impact.

The idiom "break the back of" is a versatile expression that can be used in various situations, illustrating both positive accomplishments and negative defeats. Its usage provides a vivid and concise way to convey the notion of overcoming challenges, reaching a critical turning point, or causing significant damage. Despite its long history and clear meaning, this idiom also leaves room for individual interpretation and application in different contexts, making it an enduring and intriguing phrase in the English language.

Example usage

1. He worked late into the night to break the back of the project and make sure it was completed on time.

2. The team managed to break the back of the opponent's defense and scored three goals in quick succession.

3. After months of training, she finally broke the back of her bad habit and was able to quit smoking.

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