Break the Mold or Broke the Mold – Origin & Meaning

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Idiomatic phrases are a great way to help your audience better understand your message. They are words that have a literal origin but are almost exclusively used in a figurative sense in modern language.

Breaking the mold is a figurative way to highlight something new and unique. Its use spans back to the 16th century and is just as popular today as it was then. Let’s learn about how to use the term to break the mold.

What Is the Meaning of Broke the Mold?

Break the Mold or Broke the Mold Origin Meaning

Break the mold or broke the mold is an idiom with longstanding literal and figurative uses. When somebody breaks the mold figuratively, it means they do something new or has never been done before.

For example:

  • The new governor is breaking the mold when it comes to putting land resource protections in place to avoid a loss of future tax revenue.
  • He hoped he could break the mold and step away from the negative connotation that had built up around his family by being the first to graduate from college.

If you say that somebody broke the mold when they were born, you almost always mean they are a unique, one-of-a-kind individual.

For example:

  • The CEO wanted to hire somebody who broke the mold and was entirely unique in their demeanor and approach when running the new office building.
  • Breaking the mold was an integral part of her life from the day she was born; her mother knew she was something special from the day she was conceived.

It is more likely to be used positively than negatively but can sometimes carry a sarcastic or negative tone.

For example:

  • She looked the new hire up and down, exclaiming, “They really broke the mold when they made you, didn’t they? Let’s see if you stand up to the hype.”

Origins of Broke the Mold

Break the Mold vs Broke the Mold Ngram
Break the mold and broke the mold usage trend.

A mold is a “hollow pattern from which something is shaped or made,” from the 13th-century Old French word modle. Its use in a figurative sense to mean “nature, character, or native constitution” is also from the 13th century.

Limited or one-of-a-kind molds were often broken or destroyed after use to avoid exact replicas from being made. This allowed the original forms taken from the molds to be worth more money.

The figurative use to break the mold was supposedly first recorded in the 1560s. However, it became popular in the 20th century as a British catchphrase. In the early 1980s, the founders of the Social Democratic Party promoted the party using the break the mold phrase recently used by Roy Jenkins, President of the Commission of the European Communities.

Let’s Review

Even though break the mold originally had a literal use that meant to break the physical mold from which things were cast from, the word mold had taken on a figurative use in the 13th century to describe the nature or character of a person or thing.

The figurative idiom breaking the mold was first used in the 16th century. However, it became a mainstream saying during the 1980s when used as a British catchphrase to promote a new political party.