Did someone say ‘break the bank,’ and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.
‘Break the bank’ has three meanings that are all related to one another.
The idiom ‘break the bank’ has three related meanings, which are:
In the first sense, to ‘break the bank’ is a gambling term. This occurs when a player wins a vast sum of money at a casino. The literal interpretation of the phrase means that the player wins more money than the house actually has on hand, but this is a very rare scenario indeed.
In gambling, the same phrase can also be used to describe a situation where a person wins more chips than there are at the table. In some fictional portrayals, a gambler will sometimes be portrayed as winning more money than the casino has in total, leaving them in a situation where they win the casino itself as the prize.
Looking at the second and third meanings, this phrase can be used in common speech to describe running out of money or something being too expensive. For example, you could say that you want to buy a car that isn’t going to “break the bank” or express that taking a vacation “nearly broke the bank.”
According to some sources, “break the bank” dates back to about the year 1600. It was, in its origin, a gambling term.
The idea is that when gamblers won more money than the house had to pay, it “broke” the house (aka the bank).
Other sources say that the phrase isn’t actually quite that old, dating back to 1873. The story is that an Englishman named Joseph Jagger won $350k playing roulette at the Casino de Monte Carlo. For the record, this would have been nearly 9 million dollars in today’s money.
Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that ‘break the bank’ has been used since the early 1800s. This pushes back on the notion that the phrase didn’t originate until Jagger ‘broke the bank’ in the late 1800s.
In A Digest of the Evidence on The Bank Chapter Taken Before the Committee of 1832, we find the phrase used in relation to the Bank of England:
“The Bank of England would do the same. Then men could not raise money, nor bring goods, nor ship them; the great bill-payer on the exchange would find a scarcity, and he would lie back. The whole machine of commerce would stand still. I do not think that any combination of persons can break the Bank. Suppose they take out a million or two, the Bank loses nothing, but they who draw out do it at a loss.”
Household Words by Charles Dickens from 1852 also uses the phrase a number of times:
“Still more unfortunately, as the event will show, I won– won prodigiously; won incredibly; won at such a rate, that the regular players at the table crowded round me; and staring at my stakes with hungry, superstitious eyes, whispered to one another, that the English stranger was going to break the bank.”
How would ‘break the bank’ be used in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:
What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to ‘break the bank’? Here are some options:
‘Break the bank’ is an English idiom that has three related meanings:
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