I know the meaning of the expression, "brace yourself," and also the meaning of the word "brace" but I don't understand why they have that word in that expression and what its origin or history is.

Why brace? Aren't braces what dentists install in people's jaws?

  • None of the answers here mention this, but I've always thought that "bracing" also means to physically brace yourself, because on particularly bad news the recipient might collapse, so it makes sense to physically brace. This is similar to other expressions telling the recipient of bad news to sit down first. Apr 11, 2014 at 1:21
  • @congusbongus Please see my answer, I believe what you refer to is the definition I mentioned there relating to pressing against something for stability.
    – Vality
    Apr 11, 2014 at 10:49
  • People are overcomplicating this. Look up pictures of "tree brace" which is probably the visual image that kept this expression popular.
    – Merk
    Apr 11, 2014 at 17:24
  • Many words words have more than one distinct meaning. Look this one up in the dictionary.
    – Mitch
    Apr 11, 2014 at 19:35

6 Answers 6


Brace in brace yourself means prepare yourself for something difficult or unpleasant. This is a subsense of the verb meaning make a structure stronger or firmer.

  • 2
    The expression probably evolved from the verb form: "Make (a structure) stronger or firmer with wood, iron, or other forms of support". That evolved to "brace yourself" meaning doing something physically to keep yourself from falling over or being knocked over by some physical force. That led to figuratively "bracing yourself" against an emotional force or shock.
    – TREE
    Apr 11, 2014 at 14:16

I think brace in this sentence is meant as a definition that has not been mentioned here yet. It can mean according to the Oxford dictionary to:

Press (one’s body or part of one’s body) firmly against something in order to stay balanced.

eg: "He braced his shaking body against the wall and forced his legs to defy gravity and support him one last time."

I have always thought it was this meaning used here as it is usually said when one is supposed to literally grab or press against something to prevent themselves from falling or being injured.


Brace has different meanings, apart from the one you mention:

1) A device that holds or fastens two or more parts together or in place; a clamp.

2) A cause or source of renewed physical or spiritual vigor.
Source: Collins Dict.

Definition 2 is obviously a figurative sense of definition 1, which by extension is used in the saying brace oneself, meaning: prepare oneself (with adequate psychological support) to face difficult events.


Brace is from the French bras meaning arms. It probably arrived with the Normans. The command Brace! - still used in aviation - originaly meant "hold on with your arms" (otherwise you'll be flung out of the longboat as it hits the beach!) By extension, a brace serves to hold things in place.

A dentist attaches a brace to teeth not the jaw.

  • Not quite. Do you have a source for that? Apr 11, 2014 at 13:47

According to The Online Etymology Dictionary:

brace (n.) early 14c., "piece of armor for the arms," also "thong, strap for fastening," from Old French brace, braz "arms," also "length measured by two arms" (12c., Modern French bras "arm, power;" brasse "fathom, armful, breaststroke"), from Latin bracchia, plural of bracchium "an arm, a forearm," from Greek brakhion "an arm" (see brachio-). Applied to various devices for fastening and tightening on notion of clasping arms. Of dogs, "a couple, a pair" from c.1400.

brace (v.) mid-14c., "to seize, grasp," also "wrap, enshroud; tie up, fetter," from Old French bracier "to embrace," from brace (see brace (n.)). Meaning "to render firm or steady by tensing" is mid-15c., earlier in figurative sense "strengthen or comfort" (someone), early 15c., with later extension to tonics, etc. that "brace" the nerves (compare bracer "stiff drink"). Related: Braced; bracing.


From MW,

Brace verb

to get ready for something difficult or unpleasant ( chiefly US )

I suggest you see also stay

Stay verb

to continue in a place or condition

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