Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What is the meaning of "to be next into the breach" in the following examples?

There's a blue flame from, I think, an oxygen tank. Carter finds Lisa on the floor and asks her if her neck is okay; she nods. Luka is next into the breach, and asks Carter whether Lisa's airway is clear[.]

The idea that English has more than one declarative “mood” has been dismissed as superstitious by empirically-minded grammarians of English for centuries [. . .]. Let me be next into the breach.

But let's be of good cheer: looks like Newt the execrable is next into the breach as the transitory not-Mitt.

I can sort of grasp the overall meaning—it seems to me that a simple next would do the job in all the examples above—but I can't figure out its connotation: what does "into the breach" add to the sense? Does this idiom change its meaning according to the context?

share|improve this question
    
'breach' is a gap, opening, or space between things. It is often used metaphorically. –  Mitch May 9 '12 at 17:46

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

According to thefreedictionary.com, "step into the breach" means "to do someone's work when they are suddenly not able to do it [eg] Professor Collier stepped into the breach when the guest lecturer failed to turn up." As shown at phrases.org.uk (and noted in previous answer) the phrase stems from the 'Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' speech of Shakespeare's Henry V, Act III. This link suggests the meaning is "Let us try again one more time", rather than doing something no one else will do.

share|improve this answer
    
I would quibble with The Free Dictionary's definition: my usage of this is more of a self-sacrificial lamb, i.e. someone who steps into the breach is volunteering to do a job that other people don't want, not being volunteered for a job that a specific other person didn't want. –  Marthaª May 9 '12 at 16:35
    
@Marthaª, I agree with you, and wrote "according to" rather than "as shown at" for that reason. –  jwpat7 May 9 '12 at 16:39
    
As for the examples I provided above, the last two seem to fit the definitions of "doing a job other people don't want to do" and "trying one more time" (with some kind of "heroic" undertone to it, due to the military origin of this idiom). In the first example, it seems to be something like "(then) Luka comes up." What do you think? –  Giorgiomastrò May 9 '12 at 21:21
1  
@Giorgiomastrò, in the first example (from eg rescue-me.php?page=18) I think you've correctly understood what the writer meant. The writer uses "into the breach" in a cliched manner, probably intending to compare the explosion area to a war zone. Note, this "blue flame from... an oxygen tank" thing is ridiculous; oxygen is an oxidizer, not a fuel. Propane is the fuel most commonly used in TV and movie flame effects. It burns yellow when a reducing flame, blue if a neutral or oxidizing flame. –  jwpat7 May 9 '12 at 21:35

Breach means ‘gap’, and the phrase is an echo of

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

from Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’. There the breach is the gap in the French defences made by the English army.

share|improve this answer
    
Personally, I think the modern "next into the breach" doesn't only derive from Shakespeare's exhortation to continue the attack, concentrating on the established weak point. I feel there's an element of the next projectile being put in a breech-loading weapon –  FumbleFingers May 10 '12 at 0:39

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.