I watched the 1st episode of "Taboo" TV show and here is a piece of the description of the main character given by his enemies:

I would guess that confidence allowed his true savage nature and mother's madness to emerge. The necks he broke always belonged to officers. And then there is the setting ablaze of a Navy boat in an experiment with oil and mashed potatoes while drunk. And a fight with a bear in Chancery Lane, a rebellion against the cooks for bad custard, started by him, and he raved about fortunes and hidden treasures. He tried to recruit other boys to go down the river to India, to trade with Red Indians, to take gold from the Aztecs. And more necks, more whores and more custard. And finally...

I suspect that the main character actually didn't break officers's necks because it's the crime that a soldier couldn't have committed without consequences. I guess that there is some figurative meaning of "the necks he broke". Am I right?

  • 1
    Litcrit. Could be off topic.
    – Kris
    Jan 10, 2017 at 10:07
  • Hard to gage the exact manner in which it is said. He could certainly have literally broken some officers' necks. Nothing rules that out. And notice it's officers' for possessive plural, not officers's. Jan 11, 2017 at 3:34
  • Sideways because this simply about killing, not breaking necks in particular, 200 years ago was right after the Napoleonic Wars, about which two things: Skirmishers started to fight alongside serried ranks firing volleys into smoke in the hope of hitting anyone more by luck than judgement. Skirmishers were particularly told to kill enemy officers first, to add confusion to injury… A smoky, noisy battlefield was a bewildering place and officers were meant to lead from in front, so soldiers with grudges might risk shooting hated officers… No neck breaking but what the heck? Jan 21, 2017 at 23:40

3 Answers 3


I've never heard breaking necks used in this context but I suspect the soldier in question was a pain in the neck.

  • Yes! I think that it makes perfect sense!
    – sovo2014
    Jan 10, 2017 at 12:39

That's from a historical drama set in the early 1800s, right?

I'm guessing that "to break someone's neck" is just some historical slang. These days it only ever means to literally break someone's neck.

I'm also guessing that a modern equivalent could perhaps be something like "to bust someone's balls," in which case they might have said, "the balls that he busted always belonged to officers," which would have been just a humorous way of phrasing it.

  • Yep. It's the year of the Lord 1814 as they say it in the show)
    – sovo2014
    Jan 11, 2017 at 12:55

Haven't heard of that phrase before, but given the context it seems to imply that the person in question is a bit of rebel.

The the angst/sass/misdemeanour are intended to irk superiors or people representing authority. Therefore, it likely implies that the person in question has a bit of anti-authourity or anti-establishment streak in them.

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