I was watching The Maltese Falcon and there's a scene when Dundy, a cop, tells Sam Spade (who Dundy thinks may have murdered someone) the following:

Well, you know me, Spade. If you did it, or if you didn't, you'll get a square deal from me and most of the breaks. Don't know if I blame you as much - a man that killed your partner, but that won't stop me from nailing you.

I'm kind of confused by "you'll get a square deal from me and most of the breaks." I know "square deal" usually means "fair deal," but I'm not sure how that fits in here given that Dundy is threatening Sam, and I'm entirely unsure of what "most of the breaks" means.

  • 1
    I'll be very reasonable to give you the benefit of the doubt (the breaks), but you need to confess first. Aug 29, 2022 at 4:04
  • @YosefBaskin How is giving him the benefit of the doubt compatible with confessing? And do you have other examples of how "the breaks" is used similarly?
    – Vasting
    Aug 29, 2022 at 4:27
  • 2
    Dundy offers breaks in direct exchange for the truth. Give me a break. Some guys get all the breaks. I can't catch a break here. Aug 29, 2022 at 4:31
  • 2
    It's an old policeman's trick very characteristic of detective stories - confess and I'll go easy on you. (For instance, you'll be charged with a lesser offence such as second-degree murder, they won't press for the death penalty, you won't get beaten up in custody or put in a cell with a thug, etc.)
    – Stuart F
    Aug 29, 2022 at 8:56
  • 1
    This is definitely the idea of the cop giving Spade several breaks, as in give someone a break. He just uses the plural. As Stuart points out cops can do several things to go easier or more harshly on detainees.
    – Lambie
    Aug 29, 2022 at 16:02

1 Answer 1


You're correct about "square deal" -- it means he'll treat Spade fairly.

"most of the breaks" seems related to the expression "give [someone] a break", which means to stop putting pressure on someone. "most" suggests that he'll reduce the pressure, not stop it entirely. I don't think this is a standard idiom.

  • Yes and I suggest "most of the breaks" means "all the breaks I can give you", "breaks" meaning "chances/excuses/leniency" Aug 31, 2022 at 21:06
  • Maybe, although I think Dundy is acting pretty much on his own, without many administrative limits. This is not a modern story with very formalized police rules.
    – Barmar
    Aug 31, 2022 at 21:08
  • Maybe, and how could it matter if Dundy is acting on his own without administrative limits, or if this is not a modern story with formal police rules? Sep 1, 2022 at 17:29
  • @RobbieGoodwin I interpreted as "I can give you" to mean "I'm authorized to give you", referring to the discretion to the police department gives him. Police procedures were much less formal a century ago, at least in fiction.
    – Barmar
    Sep 1, 2022 at 18:29
  • "I'm authorized to give" is clearly a formal statement while "I can give" you is clearly informal. Are they equivalent, or not? My suggestion is that your interpretation drowns the meaning in over-analysis. Sep 1, 2022 at 18:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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