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The choice of the verb "break" seems a strange choice for the phrase. Does anybody know where this phrase originated?

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4 Answers 4

It appears that this may have some relation to an obsolete meaning of brake.

From OED:

† brake, v.6

Etymology: perhaps repr. an unrecorded Old English *bracian , < bræc , which occurs in the sense of ‘phlegm, mucus, saliva’; compare Old Dutch braeken , Middle Low German and modern Dutch braken to vomit; allied to break n.1 (compare German sich brechen).

a. trans. and intr. To spue, vomit.

b. Cf. to break wind: see break v. Phrases 6.

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From M-W:

to separate into parts with suddenness or violence

That sounds very descriptive of what is going on, at least for the noisy variety

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I am involved in a Shakespeare production of Henry iv part one in which Falstaff complains that if he exerts himself any more he will break his wind ---- It seems an obvious fart joke (though of course the possibility remains that he is out of breath). I can't find any site allowing that this is the first use of the fart idiom though.

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I don't know for sure, but it's a very old phrase. From etymonline.com:

Break wind first attested 1550s.

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