Break or Brake?

Yesterday I talked about why we say take a break. But it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? When you take a break, at work for example, you’re breaking your day into different parts. EASY.

What might be more interesting is comparing the word break with the word brake (as featured on your car or bike). Obviously these words are homophones (they sound identical) and are often confused for each other when people write, but they actually have more in common than most realise…

The word break comes from the Old English brecan, meaning to divide solid matter violently into parts or fragments, among other things.

And the word brake, despite being quite different from break, also has a very similar origin. It entered the English language in the 15th century, and originally referred to an instrument for crushing or pounding, and came from the Dutch breken. Breken of course meant break, and came from the Proto-Germanic brehhan, which also the source of the Old English brecan.

And if you think about how brakes work, the link makes sense. They basically grab the wheel between two different pads in order to stop it moving, like the way two pads could come together to crush (or break!) something between them. Except that brakes won’t crush your wheel, unless you press on them really hard.

So if you’ve ever mistaken brake for break before, don’t worry: they’re not really so different after all!

2 thoughts on “Break or Brake?

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