Break the bank

Break the bank is an idiom. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom break the bank, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Break the bank means to exhaust one’s economic resources or to be financially ruined. The expression break the bank is often used in the negative to mean something is not expensive; for example, one may say that buying a modestly priced item will not break the bank. The earliest meaning of break the bank applied to gambling. In gambling, breaking the bank means winning more money than the establishment can pay out. The phrase break the bank came into use during late 1600s-early 1700s. Related phrases are breaks the bank, broke the bank, broken the bank, breaking the bank.


Babies cost money but, if you plan right, they needn’t break the bank. (Irish Times)

To all parents: Don’t break the bank to send your kids to their dream school (USA Today)

“The issue was finding a pretty patch of land that wouldn’t break the bank and was within an hour or so drive of a city with a decent music scene,” says Volkaert. (Roanoker Magazine)

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