break the buck: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘break the buck’ mean?

The idiom "break the buck" means to disrupt or challenge a longstanding tradition or established norms, often with the intention of bringing about change or improvement.

Idiom Explorer

Origin Revealed

Break the buck is an English idiom commonly used in American English. The idiom refers to breaking a one-dollar bill into smaller denominations, like quarters, dimes, and nickels. However, its figurative meaning is quite different.

In a figurative sense, break the buck means to challenge or disrupt a pattern or system, often with the intention of achieving personal gain. This idiom is mainly used in finance and investments, especially regarding mutual funds.

The origin of this idiom can be traced back to the early 20th century in the United States. At the time, the American currency was backed by gold, and one dollar could be exchanged for a fixed amount of gold. Due to a loss or decrease in the underlying assets, breaking the buck described situations where the value of a mutual fund fell below a dollar per share.

In the late 20th century, money market funds gained popularity as safe investments that maintained a stable net asset value (NAV) of one dollar per share. However, during exceptional circumstances like the financial crisis of 2008, some money market funds experienced a decline in value, breaking the buck and causing concern among investors.

Breaking the buck is considered a negative outcome in finance, indicating a failure to maintain stability and security that investors expect. This idiom is relevant when discussing risk and potential financial losses.

The American dollar is a financial break for tourists.

While the specific origins of the idiom are known, there is still room for interpretation regarding its wider meaning. It is believed that break the buck can also refer to challenging societal norms or conventions, or breaking free from financial constraints. The idiom highlights the complexities and unpredictability of financial systems and the need for caution in investments.

break the cycle is another idiom related to break the buck. It means to stop repeating a pattern or behavior that is negative or harmful. In the context of finance, break the cycle can be applied to investors who continually make the same mistakes, leading to financial losses. Just as breaking the buck disrupts the stability of a mutual fund, breaking the cycle disrupts the repetition of detrimental financial decisions.

break the bank is yet another related idiom. It means to spend all of one's money or to incur significant expenses. In a financial context, investors who break the bank take considerable risks and invest a substantial amount of money. Similarly, breaking the buck can lead to financial losses, where investors may lose a significant portion of their investment.

break the back of is another idiom that relates to break the buck. It means to overcome the most difficult or challenging part of a task or problem. In finance, breaking the buck can represent a significant challenge for investors who rely on the stability of mutual funds. Overcoming the financial losses caused by breaking the buck requires perseverance and the ability to navigate through the challenges associated with recovering from such losses.

break ranks is the last related idiom. It means to deviate from the norm or consensus within a group or organization. In the world of finance, breaking ranks can refer to investors who go against the prevailing investment strategies or decisions. Similarly, breaking the buck disrupts the expected stability of mutual funds and goes against the consensus of maintaining a value of one dollar per share.

Overall, break the buck is an idiomatic expression with a specific meaning in the context of finance and investments. However, it also carries broader connotations related to challenging established norms and the inherent risks involved in financial endeavors. Whether used in a literal or figurative sense, this idiom captures the complex ideas of finance and investments using concise language.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom *break the buck* can be used in a sentence:

  1. After a lengthy losing streak, the basketball team finally managed to break the buck and win the championship.
  2. The company could potentially break the buck if they continue to ignore customer complaints and provide subpar service.
  3. During the negotiation process, both parties tried their best not to break the buck and compromise on a fair agreement.

More "Finance" idioms