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I was just wondering what the origins of "breaking news" or "we broke the story" are.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The word breaking in this context means to

undergo a change or enter a new state, in particular ... of news or a scandal [NOAD]

Etymonline has this interesting tidbit to offer about break:

Meaning "to disclose" is from mid-15c.

That meaning is the flip side of the way you used it, and it is a transitive verb: "He broke the news to me that .." I believe that got modified to "breaking news" by extension.

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Breaking news here means that it is new.

We can say 'the breaking of day' or 'morning broke' meaning that it is the start of this event.

'We broke the story' means we caused it to become a new event by being the first to spread it.

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Thanks, but I understand what it means, I'm just wondering why it came to be called breaking. –  Fred Apr 3 '11 at 12:31

"Breaking" news, is "fresh" news that is happening AS WE SPEAK. We "broke" the story, means, we caught "it as it was happening" (Think of "breaking new ground.")

In English grammar, it is a reference to the "present progressive" tense.

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This question opens up a very interesting line of enquiry. To answer the question and stimulate your mind at the same time, think of breakers (on the shore). The gracefully-curved waves collapse on the shore, and break into tiny fragments. Now, at one time, fresh information was spoken of as "tidings". Maybe this was because information of far-off events (what we now call news) came with ships, which would use the tides for deeper water on landing. Hence, it seems to me that there is a hidden connection with tides, and the sea in general, with the expression: "breaking news". It arrives fresh on the shore from abroad, as it were, breaking up as it does so. It also seems to me that the word "news" has some connection with tides. In olden days, people might go down daily to the shore, to see what new things (maybe useful items or materials) had been washed up. In the language of those times, these would probably be referred to as "new things", and might be eagerly sought for fuel, construction material etc. After a while, this expression would probably be shortened (as many expressions are) to "news". People might run home with their find, and say: "I have news for you". Well, that's my take on this matter.

On a slightly different note in relation to the question, and after further thought, it occurs to me that there is a clear link between the words: break, breach and broach. (A bottle of wine is broached when first opened, of course, as is a subject of discussion.) Go figure. This does not necessarily contradict the views previously expressed by me (in this same "answer", such as it is).

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Can you cite any source which relates breaking news to breaking waves, or is this simply a speculative exercise? –  choster Jan 8 '14 at 16:18
I can't cite any support for my view of this matter. It's purely a result of my pondering on the question. It's very easy to be mistaken, of course, and I would welcome any correction to what I have put forward. –  Pundit not really Jan 9 '14 at 17:23
Please visit the Help Center. This is not a discussion forum, but a Q&A site; we are trying to find useful answers for the poster. Idle speculation is not useful. –  choster Jan 9 '14 at 17:51
It is an interesting link made between "tidings", for "news", and waves (the tide) breaking on the shore, but of course it is not suitable as an answer and should rather serve the OP as a starting point for research. In this case, the theory can be debunked: etymonline.com states "tidings", for "announcement of an event" comes from 1069, from Old English "tidung", meaning "event, occurrence, piece of news," whereas "tide" for "rise and fall of the sea" is from mid-14th C. –  nxx Jan 10 '14 at 14:50
Sorry, the responder, not the OP. –  nxx Jan 10 '14 at 14:57

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