I was wondering if it is okay to use "break the awkwardness" in place of "break the silence" or "break the ice" to describe an action leading to a social interchange/conversation. If not, then what are the possible alternatives to "breaking the ice" - perhaps something more formal?

EDIT: The context is a social situation - two people deadlocked in an awkward silence for a rather long time trying to break the ice. So long that the situation becomes awkward for both?

  • Context please. First thoughts: "smooth the transition," "we started with a cordial handshake ...," and "greeted each other with/by ..." – Stu W Oct 30 '15 at 3:26

One might use one of several expressions suggesting a solid turning to a liquid. For instance, 'The/Their awkwardness melted away', in this example from Rudolf Vrba's book 'I Escaped From Auschwitz', Page 192 (https://books.google.com.au/books?isbn=1861059272):

enter image description here

Again the concept of a solid blockage melting away, and fluidity being restored to human relations is conveyed by the expression, 'The/Their awkwardness dissolved', in this example from Erika Robuck's book, 'Call Me Zelda' (https://books.google.com.au/books?isbn=1101614153):

enter image description here

The first example suggesting 'melting' not only suggested the solid impasse being replaced by a flow of conversation, but also that the agent of the change was a a 'warming' that occurred between the parties. It is interesting that we use so many metaphors of cold and hot to describe relationships and situations. One might imagine that the moment before the thaw could have been a 'frosty silence' or a 'chilly stare'

Taking this calorific view of social relations might also lead to the expression 'awkwardness thawed' in this example from Arthur de Carle Sowerby's 'The China Journal: Volume 30' from 1939:

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All of this leads back to a concluding observation that 'Melting the ice' is a much gentler phrase suggesting a warming of a relationship than the more abrupt 'Breaking the ice'. The latter usage suggests an incident external to the parties, transient, incidental and possibly contrived in character rather than one driven by the growing warmth of the relations between the two parties as is conveyed by the first mentioned usage.

If we assume (in the care free way that Googles Ngrams seems to encourage) that references to Ice-breaking ships and global warming cancel each other out, then the relative popularity of 'Breaking the ice' and 'Melting the ice' is suggested in the following Ngram:

enter image description here

'Breaking the ice' is of course a expression with deep roots and rich usage, but that is far outside, and far larger a discussion, than this question and answer allows for today.


Yes, break is idiomatic with awkwardness. The Ngram viewer finds an example of "breaking the awkwardness of silence" from 1812, which I suspect is as far back as they've digitized.

Here's a good example from Raising the Seams: Nine Tales of Murder and the Macabre by Daniel Shields:

        "Excuse me, miss," the bartender woke her out of her daze. "The young man over there would like to buy you a drink...
        "No, thank," she replied.
        She looked over at the man and mouthed the words "no thank you." He nodded with hurt eyes....
        She decided to take a walk to break the awkwardness of the moment,....

  • 1
    I don't think your example is relavant to the OP's question that asks if he can use "break the awkwardness" in the context of "two people deadlocked in an awkward silence" in place of "break the ice": Do or say something to relieve tension or get conversation going in a strained situation or when strangers meet.". – user140086 Oct 30 '15 at 4:37

You could consider using "overcome (an/the) awkward silence" or "break/beat (an/the) awkward silence in place of "break the awkwardness" as awkwardness can also mean other various "awkward/embarrassing" situations.

Awkward silence means:

an uncomfortable pause in a conversation or presentation.


It is difficult to say the fore-mentioned idioms are more formal than "break the ice" as it is a braodly used idiom in a formal way and "ice" itself means:

Complete absence of friendliness or warmth in manner or expression:

[Oxford Online Dictionary]


"They peered once more into their half-finished drinks--John took a drink from his while Mary just stirred her ice cubes in a circle. In his mind, John searched once again for the words that would end the uncomfortable break in conversation. He almost asked about the weather--twice. Finally, he had some inspiration: noticing a scene from THE HOBBIT on a painting that was in view to both, he asked, 'Did you read any Tolkien growing up?'"

  • So bad it's good. So essentially we are talking about 'Rescuing the moment.', or, 'Finding a conversational life raft.' – John Mack Oct 30 '15 at 22:18

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