9
  1. I am broke

In slang it means to be without money, but how would I say (facetiously) that my economic situation is worse today?

a. I am broker today
b. I am more broke today

Solution b) sounds less ambiguous to my ears because in a) broker means someone who buys and sells goods or assets for others. And it also sounds like (to me) someone who is now more broken in spirit than before. Yet, grammatically speaking, broker should be correct:
broke --> broker --> the brokest

broke
ADJECTIVE
informal
predicative Having completely run out of money.
English Oxford Dictionaries

Question
What is the comparative form of “be broke” in colloquial speech?
Is it “broker” or “more broke”?

This question is inspired by a quote from the novel Educated by Tara Westover, which was posted on ELL as
What's the meaning of “be broker than the Ten Commandments”?

  • 3
    'Broke' means having no money at all. 'Skint' is another slang word meaning the same. So the state cannot get worse. Even if one enters into more debt, it makes no difference, it does not get worse. One still has no cash in one's pocket. So I don't think 'more broke' would ever apply, myself. But you can buy a 'More Broke' tee shirt, apparently. – Nigel J May 27 '18 at 11:21
  • 1
    Depends on your context. If you're doing casual talk then "broker" is fine. Informal, then use "more broke". Formal would be "even more destitute". – Hot Licks May 27 '18 at 12:05
  • 1
    Google Ngrams seems to say that for the superlative, both constructions are fine. – Peter Shor May 27 '18 at 14:16
  • 3
    @PeterShor a couple of hits on Google Books for "broker than broke" Eek, have I answered my own question?! – Mari-Lou A May 27 '18 at 14:26
  • 1
    if looking for slang, does it need be comparatively 'worse than broke', or the equivalent of being broke? – lbf May 27 '18 at 17:48
2

Both comparative forms are in use. It seems that more broke is the older usage, but more extensive research--which I can't do at the moment--would need to confirm this (not that the answer depends on which usage is older).

The sentence

I'm broker today.

could theoretically mean I'm the one who is the broker today, with broker meaning the one "who buys and sells goods or assets for others" (ODO). For the lack of an article before the count noun, see Omission of “the” in “elected him president” and “made captain”.

But the meaning or intended meaning of statements are usually flushed out in context. And Google Books offers plenty of examples of broker as the comparative for broke, including:

The Fed and US government would like to nationalize banks here shortly. That should be truly terrifying. You know, getting loans from someone broker than you.

(Here's what you do, 2009)

We had everything back but we were broker than we were in the welfare days.

(The death of cool: From Teenage Rebellion to the Hangover of Adulthood, 2013)

Hollins was broker than usual.

(Lads - the seventies, 2013)

The only travelers I see on this road for two weeks are even broker than I am.

(Queer and loathing on the yellow brick road, 2012)

A fortune in stones, and he was broker than the panhandler on the corner.

(Woman chased by crows: an Orwell Brennan mystery, 2012)

As one contractor said: “He didn't want a lot of money, just enough for bread, but at the time I was broker than him. I took out my wallet and I only had $30 in it, and he said to keep it

(Sweethearts: How the Mafia, Jewish developers, and Italian workers..., 2014)

On the other hand, there are comparatives with more broke. So, in the end, I guess you can pick your poison:

I was more broke than ever. Think that's odd for a financial adviser?

(The money book for the young, fabulous & broke, 2005)

Most people I know are even more broke than I am. That would suck. To be more broke than I am. I need to figure out a way to make more money.

(Peeling apart, 2006)

Well, suffice it to say, I leave the shop with the skirt and the sickening thought that I am now even more broke than when I first started rehearsing.

(Confessions of a (struggling) actress, 2012)

So, it seems there is use of both forms. Is one "more right" or "righter" than the other? Only a prescriptive grammarian would insist on that.

I can't include exhaustive research at the moment, but it seems that more broke is the older usage. For example:

However, by 1934, at the depth of the depression, he was more broke than he ever had been before.

(Collier's magazine, 1950).

If someone insists that English was spoken better 70 years ago, then they might produce this, and a handful of other search returns, for evidence.

  • Any evidence that supports someone's claim that "broker" has always been the preferred comparative? – Mari-Lou A Jun 2 '18 at 6:35
  • 1
    No, and my answer has been expanded to show that broker is not even today the only version in use. As for numbers, I am not going to trust Google search page counts; and I've not time to count individual returns. Both terms are in use; one term might be preferable to one speaker or another, or one speaker might employ both, depending on context. Frankly, broker seemed to be the obvious way to go, but there is enough use of more broke out there to not be a prescriptivist about it. – AmE speaker Jun 2 '18 at 6:49
1

The only reasonable solution I've ever encountered used this formula:

I was broke last week, and then suffered a reversal. Things are a bit better now, but I'm still not quite back up to broke.

Traditional mechanisms (broker, for example) would sound to me like "deader". Some words just seem absolute on their own, and the integrity of the words compromised by trying to make them comparative.

  • 4
    No one's ever been "deader than a doornail"? – Hot Licks May 27 '18 at 12:03
  • @Hot Licks...yeah, but only in a set idiomatic expression. I don't care for "John's deader 'n Jim". – J. Taylor May 27 '18 at 12:10
  • 1
    @HotLicks in my experience they have been "as dead as a doornail", not more (or less) dead. – abligh May 27 '18 at 13:43
  • @J.Taylor For most purposes, sure. All the same, even ignoring humorous intensifiers, Uncle Ben's deader than Peter Parker is. – lly May 27 '18 at 17:10
  • @lly...... Ok, if someone tried to tell me Latin was a dead language, I MIGHT reply: "Etruscan's deader"......but it is all pretty silly.. – J. Taylor May 27 '18 at 18:25
1

I remember a piece of doggerel that might have some relevance here:

"Break, break, break on the cold grey stones, O Sea! / If you should break for a thousand years, you'd never be as broke as me!"

  • That's some mighty fine doggerel cap'n. Had never heard of the word doggerel, but I really like it. – Hunter Frazier Jun 2 '18 at 6:19
  • Glad you like it, Hunter Frazier. It's a takeoff on a poem by Tennyson. – tautophile Jun 2 '18 at 22:39
1

broker than

According to Google Books Ngram, the comparative "broker than" appears to have enjoyed some currency in the mid-1700s. Appears being the operative word though, because if we look at the results a very different story emerges.

Ngram chart plotting "broker than" and "more broke than" between 1500 and 200 (ca)

First and foremost, the results recorded in that impressive red peak between 1750 and 1760 are false positives. There are no recorded instances of "broker than" in that period.

Secondly, all the recorded instances that appear between 1800 and 1930 use the term broker as a NOUN, not as an adjective. To give but a few examples:

If would, no doubt, rather play the part of a broker than “equalize the exchange (1819), they are oftener cashed by the broker than passed into currency (1825), I suggest to you the employment of another broker than myself (1848), …and in acting for you I often appeared rather as a ship-broker, than as a member of Parliament. (1847), and he also sells by auction; his chief occupation is the latter,—is he not therefore rather a broker than a dealer? (1850), It is better that the tax should be upon the broker than upon the farmer. (1914), Purchasers of commercial paper will usually do better to buy through a reliable broker than direct, as many losses have been caused by companies… (1917) "The merchant can often obtain more funds through the note broker than he could obtain from his local bank." (1922), "Is it not possible to get & [?] better price from one unlisted broker than another?" (1926)

The first instance that comes closest to the comparative form is dated 1937

And some of us broker than others, and yours truly is about the best broker in town.

However, the meaning of broker in the phrase: “some of us broker than others” is still a NOUN.

If broker, as lly's answer suggests, has always been the preferred comparative of broke there should be some evidence of its usage in the Ngram chart. Unfortunately, I discovered none.

Digging further, all the instances of broker than recorded by Ngram refer to the noun meaning. The only exception was the following, dated 1996, a book entitled More Texas Sayings Than You Can Shake a Stick At. However, it is important to note that the jocular form broker refers the VERB break, not to its financial meaning: 1. “Broker than the Ten Commandments” (= to be more broken than the ten commandments) and 2. “Broker than a stick horse” (= more broken than…)

This is not to say that native speakers never say "broker than", but Google Books was created to index the books’ content and analyze the connections between them, determining any given book’s relevance and usefulness by tracking the number and quality of citations from other books. [emphasis mine]

So one is forced to look to Google, and indeed I found some evidence, the catchphrase (or idiom) broker than broke

  • He thought of her, and he felt honest regret about the whore he had known earlier, missing his wife. "I was broke, broker than broke, and I was powerfully tired, and in desperation, hungry and worn,... (1977)

  • Now, let's talk about Nigeria for a while." He addressed himself more to me than to the audience. Your country is broker than broke. Your country owes us, the West, billions. (1986)

  • That was a huge year compared to where I'd been a couple years before. My perception of my time changed. Two years prior I was broker than broke; I was $65,000 upside ... (2003)

  • *John is completely broke, which is broker than broke, broker than before. Last Friday, someone, a friend, sort of a friend, a guy John recognized from the neighborhood, offered to buy drinks at the bar if John would drive. John drove.* (2018)

more broke than…

On the other hand, the (written) evidence suggesting that native speakers prefer using this informal construction is well-supported. Searching was more broke than (blue line), and even more broke than (red line) between 1900 and 2005 on Google Ngram proved fruitful.

Google Ngram chart plotting *was more broke than*, and *even more broke than*

Parties For Pennies (1942)

You'll find, if you do, that you are even more broke than you dreaded you might be— and, unfortunately, just at a moment when you have no spare pennies to charge up to experience.

From The Rivers are Frozen (1942)

put in a box to be filed, and, well, they said, they'd call her if there was anything; but there was nothing, and at last Leo was more broke than she'd ever been and once she nearly wrote to Uncle Bob for help, but she couldn't quite do that.

From How to be Poor (1945)

“ELL, I have finished my book, read it myself, and made a date to meet some of my intimates, more learned and even more broke than I— at a rendezvous of ours where there is an orchestra whose conductor gives us— my intimates and me—”

The Horizontal Hour (1957)

Derek had asked. "God knows you need analysis more than I." The remark had come at one of Mungo's low points. He was more broke than usual, sick of working, sick of working at working. "The plague of the locusts is on me," he conceded

Conclusion

The results spewed by Google's Ngram need to be always checked, and always carefully but there is strong evidence to suggest that native speakers, in casual speech, will opt for “more broke” as the comparative adjective form of broke.

  • The one in the mid 1750s looks to be a false positive as well. – Laurel May 28 '18 at 9:19
  • @Laurel that's what I meant. I don't have time to fix the wording, I wasted enough time chasing all those results. – Mari-Lou A May 28 '18 at 9:23
  • To Ily: my "lavend, lavender, lavendest" was a joke, really. It's in fact a line from a poem by Ogden Nash, which I thought might elicit a smile from readers. It was not my intention to offend. I also noted--if not here then elsewhere--that "I'm broker than the Ten Commandments" is itself a sort of joke, playing off two meanings of "broke", viz. penniless and the past tense of break. – tautophile May 28 '18 at 23:34
  • .shrug. Your answer to your own question seems off-topic. Yes, the majority of the 'hits' on the ngram are false positives. No, that doesn't change the reality that 'broker' and 'more broke' both exist and that 'broker' is somewhat more common, albeit usually as a jocular intensifier rather than a straight comparison. That's what your answer should actually focus on. Retorts to other posts really just belong in their comments or in helpful edits. – lly May 29 '18 at 8:43
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA One can add qualifiers in an NGram search to specify Part of Speech, namely 'broker_ADJ than, more broke than' to compare 'broker' as an adjective (see the ngrams help page for more tricks). Of course there will always be caveats about what the results really mean. Unfortunately, for some reason I can't fathom, the POS search doesn't give links to instances. – Mitch May 29 '18 at 12:21
0

If you add the implied "Today" before or after the original "I am broke" it sounds better. This leaves two real distinct meanings to the term I am broke, one being much more casual than the other.

(recently/eternally) I am broke | I am broke
Today I am broker | I am broker today
Today I am more broke | I am more broke today

I believe it's the detachment of today which could create confusion. Either by casting the speaker as an actual broker (possibly a giant, with a brain capacity of a toddler, who forgets his a's) or for broken to mean an enternal state of brokenness.

Time specificity such as "today" or "tomorrow" indicate a more casual context, one which would likely elude such misinterpretations. I believe one can be broker than they were in a previous state in time as well, and that the term can carry vary degrees of actual meaning when in terms of either financial situations or being facetious.

0
  • The usual patten in English to make comparatives is to add '-er' if the adjective has only one syllable, and prepose by 'most' if it is many syllables. For two syllables, it can go either way:

    • tall -> taller
    • happy -> happier
    • orange -> more orange
    • interesting -> more interesting
  • 'broke' is considered an absolute adjective (or 'non-gradable'). Like 'impossible', 'fatal', 'main', etc. you're either broke or not, there are no degrees of it. Like 'unique', it means that that's it, you've reached a logical point of not having money. Like other absolute terms, it may be used hyperbolically, as though one could lose more money (and usually one can). Logically one cannot be more broke.

  • there is no word such as 'broker' as a comparative of 'broke'. It doesn't appear in dictionaries as a derivative of the adjective 'broke'.

So, if 'broke' has a comparative, one would add '-er'. But semantically it doesn't make sense, and no one tries to use it that way in non-informal speech or writing.

Of course, people don't always think logically, or rather may use words slightly differently than expected, and words that are nominally absolute may be graded for effect. One can say "deader than a doornail" for exaggeration even though dead is about as far as it gets. This is not how absolute adjectives are expected to be used in non-informal speech.


To answer the explicit request, to do something illogical intentionally, is allowable in the sense that it is understood as hyperbole, or humor, or breaking the rules for effect (see barbarism ). As an analogy, suppose you you are wearing blue and brown together, which is unique, but I am wearing red and green stripes. One could state:

I am more unique than you.

or for added silliness

I am uniquer than you.

Those are both non-standard, the first because 'unique' is non-gradable, and the second even moreso because of infelicitous word formation.

To express what you want I can only suggest almost exactly what you said:

I was broke yesterday and I am worse off today.

This is only subtly illogical (since you shouldn't be able to be worse off) but at least no word construction errors are made.

Or there are always gradable synonyms, adjective that allows comparatives, like 'poor':

I was poor yesterday and today I'm poorer.

One can certainly say

Today I'm broker than I was yesterday

and be well understood, but it gives a connotation of a lax standard. If writing for a newspaper, the copy editor would tsk-tsk, if for a high school essay you teacher would take off points, but for your creative writing class the teacher might commend you on capturing the sound of an very informal speaker.

  • 2
    So, how would you express the idea, informally (using "broke"), that my economic situation is worse today? – Mari-Lou A May 27 '18 at 12:24
  • 1
    The word "unique" is composed of two syllables so "uniquer" is not really a legitimate construction, "more unique" is a lot commoner, erm, much more common according to Google Books. – Mari-Lou A May 27 '18 at 17:09
  • @Mari-LouA, Mitch would opt not to express that concept using 'broke' apparently. Plenty of people use 'broker' and always have, but he doesn't have to be one of them. – lly May 27 '18 at 17:14
  • What is a bit funny, though, is the long answer denying the possibility... shot through by the inadvertently honest caveat "(and usually one can)". Quite so, even apart from losses of government assistance and other income or assumption of liabilities (e.g., child support) that would reduce one's circumstances below the impecunious status of 'broke'. It's such comparisons that are being made when one rumbles to "stop complaining; I'm broker than you are." – lly May 27 '18 at 17:24
  • @Mari-LouA Perhaps, before I was simply broke, but now I actually have less than nothing? (In other words, I'm now in debt; my account balance is negative.) – Jason Bassford May 27 '18 at 17:36
-1

As mentioned in the earlier thread, 'broker' is now and always has been the more common comparative for 'broke', although some people do indeed say 'more broke' [ngram], likely by analogy with 'broken'.*

For the past century at least, 'broke' has been considered informal and nonstandard speech.

Proscriptivist ideas about the relative levels of absolute poverty, as mentioned by @Mitch, have no real bearing. People say they're 'broke' when they don't have enough money handy; if you can't pay for your beer because you left your wallet at home but I can't because I don't have a job and owe child support once I do get one,

I'm broker than you.

Beyond which, the comparative is used for humorous intensification. Google's current top suggestions are that you can be 'broker than the Tooth Fairy at a meth house', 'than a three-legged dog', and 'than the Ten Commandments'... bringing us back to the thread where we already answered this question.

.

*Edit: Having gone through more of the results page by page thanks to the conversation below, it is more of a close-run thing between 'broker' and 'more broke' than the ngram looks at first, owing to comparisons featuring stock &c. brokers.

  • @lly If you’re using the desktop version of the site, the time stamp on comments is a direct link to that comment which you can copy-paste. If you’re using the mobile version or app, there’s a ‘Share’ link when you click on a comment. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 27 '18 at 17:32
  • @Mari-LouA I'm also confused by what you find ambiguous. It's the comparative of 'broke' and more common than 'more broke'. Even the proscriptivist responses to your answer admit they understand the concept: there's always more to lose, be it debt, liabilities, or foregone income. – lly May 27 '18 at 17:43
  • @Mari-LouA "All the uses"? There are 3 already given, an entire thread here from a quote from a celebrated current book that you obviously already saw, and Vanilla Google pulls several hundred cites just for "broker than you". More of those are like "...by the broker than you choose..." that I might've expected but there are still far too many to list every usage in English. – lly May 27 '18 at 17:44
  • No idea why you moved your comment below mine, but the point and question stand. There are plenty of examples given and available, and the concept isn't difficult to grok. – lly May 27 '18 at 17:44
  • downvote retracted, all comments deleted because they have been addressed. Thank you for the edits. The answer is much better now. – Mari-Lou A May 27 '18 at 17:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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