• broke •
brok • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Temporarily without any money, penniless.
Notes: This word is a member of a tiny group of adjectives based, not on either participle of a verb, but on the past tense of break. A relatively new member (1960s) is woke "well-informed, sensitive to social injustice".
In Play: This word usually implies an impecuniosity that is temporary or at least impermanent: "Axel actually went flat broke but paid taxes as he did so." An odd little phrase that we use without thinking about it is 'go for broke' meaning "risk everything": "Siddy Hall decided to throw caution to the wind and go for broke, so she added her name to those of a host of other candidates for the legislative seat."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a clipped version of broken, the past participle of break. A slang synonym is busted. Break has cousins in most Germanic languages like Danish brække, Dutch breken, and German brechen. They all come from PIE bhregh- "to break, crash", source also of Latin frangere "to break", whose past participle fractus went into the making of many words borrowed by English like fracture, fraction, and infraction. The present stem also produced fragilis "breakable, weak", from which English made its fragile. In the Celtic languages we find Modern Gaelic bris "to break" and briseadh "a break".
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