The following is a comment made by a poster in response to this article:

Absolutely correct. Intentionally obscuring who you are and what your desires are may lead to heartache and in rare occurrences broken lives. I personally, unlike this articles author never ever want to come close to breaking another individuals life.

What does it mean when your life is broken, or to break someone's life?

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    Seems like it's just a somewhat unidiomatic way of saying ruined lives or destroyed lives, possibly through a confusion with broken hearts. No special, hidden meaning behind it. Commented Jul 6, 2014 at 15:32

2 Answers 2


The phrase "broken lives" is an idiom (and a borderline cliché) referring to human lives shattered, destroyed, or severely damaged by (usually) a personally or communally catastrophic event. The first instance of this phrase that a Google Books search turns up is from The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine for 1856 [combined snippets]:

Travellers in that distant land, going through the mountain-pass and valley where the town lay once, walk down the beach-line, looking at the furious beating of the sea-waves that have not ceased to flow, are blown upon by the same old winds that sang through the pine-forest ages long ago; for those winds, visiting all lands within the upper zone, returning, finding all things changed from when they left the mountain-gorge years before, are still the same. No man now, passing through the valley, thinks ever of the people that dwelt there, happy and brave; thinks ever of their sorrows and their love, nor their broken lives, nor noble deaths.

Another early instance is from Joseph Parkinson, "A Visit to the Royal Hospital for Incurables," (Daily News, May 10, 1869), reprinted in Three Visits to the Royal Hospital for Incurables, West Hill, Putney Heath (1870):

Concerning some charities, doubts may arise as to whether they engender any of the miseries they profess to relieve ; but no such cavilling can arise here.These people have been struck down by an irresistible power, and ask only to spend the remnant of their broken lives uncomplainingly and in quiet.

And here is an example that (typical of many early instances of the phrase) develops the image in a religious context. From Edward Hardy, "No Waste," in Faint Yet Pursuing and Other Sermons (1888):

The mistake many make, is trying to gather up the fragments of their broken lives in their own strength without thinking of the only One who can enable them to do it.

As this Ngram graph for the years 1860 through 2008 indicates, "broken lives" [the blue line] is actually a more common phrase in published writing than "ruined lives" [the red line] or "destroyed lives" [the green line]—even though it doesn't benefit from matches for instances of lives plus the simple past tense (that is, "broke lives"), as "ruined lives" and "destroyed lives" do:


It means "interrupted lives" that is lives whose courses have been dramatically changed by some unforeseen event.

Example: Broken lives:

Broken Lives was written by Estelle Blackburn between 1992 and 1998. The book is about the false imprisonment of two people, John Button and Darryl Beamish who were both convicted for murders that were later proved to be committed by Eric Cooke the last man hanged in Western Australia in the Fremantle Gaol.

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