What does the idiom "break the ice" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does break the ice mean? In what situations is break the ice used?

Meaning of "break the ice"


The phrase "break the ice" is an idiom that refers to the act of doing something to make a social situation less awkward. It is typically used when a group of people who may be unfamiliar with each other have to interact together. The idea is that by doing something that creates a sense of familiarity and commonality among them, the tension and awkwardness can be reduced and their interaction can be more enjoyable.


This phrase is believed to have originated in the mid-17th century. Before this time, it was a common practice for ships to break up large blocks of ice that had formed during the winter and floated down from the North Pole. These blocks of ice would often clog shipping routes and impede the progress of ships, so it was necessary for the crew to take action to break them up. Over time, the phrase became a metaphor for overcoming any kind of barrier or obstacle.


The phrase "break the ice" is most commonly used in social situations when there is a group of people who are unfamiliar with each other. It is used to refer to a situation in which a person initiates conversation or does something that makes the interaction easier and more comfortable for everyone involved. It can also be used more generally to refer to any situation in which one person does something to make a difficult situation less awkward or uncomfortable.

Example Sentences

  • I was so nervous about introducing myself to my colleagues, but I broke the ice by asking about their weekend plans.
  • I could tell the dinner party was getting off to a rocky start, so I decided to break the ice by telling a funny story.
  • He's great at breaking the ice in any awkward situation.
  • The team was having a hard time working together until he stepped in and broke the ice.

The meanings of the words in the "break the ice" idiom

Idioms with similar meaning

"Don't judge a book by its cover" is an English idiom that means you shouldn't make assumptions about someone or something based solely on its appearance. In Japanese, the similar idiom is "Hana yori dango," which translates to "Dumplings rather than flowers." This idiom means that substance is more important than appearance.


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