When people have no money with them they usually use the expression "I'm broke"

Does anyone know how this originated?


2 Answers 2


Broke is an old form, and nowadays informal, use of broken. If we look in the OED we can see that one of the meanings of break is:

11a. To ruin financially, make bankrupt (a person or bank).

[First recorded in the 17th century.]

11b. To become bankrupt, to ‘fail’ (commercially).

[First recorded in Shakespeare (Merchant of Venice Act III, sc.1).]

he cannot choose but break.

The definition of broken with the meaning of having no money in the OED is:

Reduced or shattered in worldly estate, financially ruined; having failed in business, bankrupt.

[First occurrence of broken in this sense is recorded in 1593.]

(Shakes. Rich. II, ii. i. 257 The Kings growne bankrupt like a broken man.)

The first occurrence of broke is recorded in 1665:

(Pepys Diary 6 July (1895) V. 6 It seems some of his creditors have taken notice of it, and he was like to be broke yesterday in his absence.)

  • Can you link to or provide the text of the earlier occurrences--especially the Merchant of Venice? May 5, 2012 at 13:59
  • @Callithumpian: no access to OED online but Shakespeare's quotes are all easily available on the web. I've added the one to the Merchant of Venice.
    – None
    May 5, 2012 at 15:10
  • Pepys' Diary covers 1660 to 1669 (consistent with 1665); why does the quote show "(1895)"? Jun 19, 2012 at 2:31
  • 1
    @jwpat7: The OED shows the date of publication of the edition quoted, where it is significantly different from the date of composition. Pepys wrote his diary in a private shorthand that was not decoded until the 19th century. The edition referred to must be the one by Henry Wheatley published in 1893–9. (The online OED now refers to the 1972–83 edition by Latham and Matthews.) Jul 31, 2012 at 20:43

I suggest you check the expression here and you will get the following result:

past tense and obsolete pp. of break (variant of broken); extension to "insolvent" is first recorded 1716 (broken, in this sense, is attested from 1590s). By coincidence, O.E. cognate broc meant, in addition to "that which breaks," "affliction, misery;" but that sense died out long before the current one began.

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