Thursday, July 7, 2011

Where does break a leg phrase come from? Answer lies in Theatre Royal Haymarket

Photo by Danny McL

People usually wish actors "break a leg" instead of good luck and you might be wondering where this phrase come from. I looked around a bit and one of the more popular beliefs is that it dates back to a time when appreciative audiences would throw coins onto the stage and in order to collect these coins, the actors would bend their knees and thus effectively "break their leg" line on stage.

However, according to London's Strangest Tales, the "break a leg" phrase can be traced all the way back to 1776. Then the present Theatre Royal Haymarket had yet to receive the Royal Warrant and was known humbly as the Little Theatre. Without a theatre licence, the then owner Samuel Foote (1720 - 1777) was literally running an illegal business by operating the theatre. In order to get around it, he held free performances but charged audiences inflated prices for refreshments during the intervals. And that infuriated the King, which meant that Little Theatre would probably never going to be legitimate.

It so happened that the King's brother, the Duke of York heard Foote's boasts that he was an accomplished horseman and challenged him to a ride. In an act of sabotage, the Duke presented Foote with a wild horse and Foote was promptly thrown to the ground and broke his leg. As he merely wanted to humiliate Foote, the Duke was filled with remorse and immediately grant Little Theatre the Royal Warrant that Foote had earlier sought to no avail. Thus, the Little Theatre became known as the Theatre Royal, a title that it has enjoyed ever since.

With that, "break a leg" has been used in theatrical circles to wish one every success.

Have you heard of any other plausible origins of the phrase? Also find out where is the centre of London and why it is there.

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