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why we use "break a leg" to stand for congratulations?

Break a leg for your exams!

For learning: English
Base language: English
Category: Language

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    tmachnish is correct, but he didn't explain WHY it's so counterintuitive.

    The phrase "break a leg" started showing up in written English parlance around the early 1900s (although it could have been around a while earlier without anyone writing about it). It is a phrase that reflects the superstitious nature of threatre performers. The notion goes that wishing ACTUAL good luck upon a person in a theatre would result in something horrible, so the exact opposite is done; by wishing a really terrible thing upon that actor (breaking their leg would make the play terrible and ruin their career), they counteract the superstition and therefore give the actor good luck.

    Similar notions occur in other languages. German, for instance, has the phrase "Hals- und Beinbruch", which means "break [your] leg AND neck" (and that phrase is one of the popular folk etymologies for the English version). Opera singers use a phrase "toi toi toi" as a chant to ward off demons. And there are plenty of other superstitions in theatre that actors observe (like knocking on wood or spinning around in a circle).
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    Essentially, it's a phrase that came about from silly superstition and was used exclusively in threatre. Now it's become so popular that English speakers use it in any mundane situation, and its meaning has just become "good luck" even if the words suggest the exact opposite.

    Its not a congratulations, its a phrase for good luck.
    Lets say you were about to take an exam and I said break a leg it just means good luck on your exam

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