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How do you define broke and broke into here?

OP: "If you're not making six figures by the time you're 40, you fail at life."

P1: "whew... I just made it... broke into 6 figures at 39."

P2: "I broke 6 figures at 29. Never got much past that though."

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    Broke past the figurative "barrier" at $99,999 into the six-figure range at $100,000. Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 19:25
  • That's right. This is a metaphor, not a fact about the verb break, or even the phrasal verb break into. It's just TIME is MOTION with a moving subject and a frangible barrier. Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 19:49
  • Protip: don't use the tag words. Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 20:13
  • I'm really itching to close this one as General Reference, but I'll restrain myself. Please lets not have anyone ask "What does break the sound barrier mean?" Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 21:56

2 Answers 2

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Broke means to undo, smash, tear etc. Here it's metaphorically picturing the ¤100,000 limit as being broken like an athlete breaking a tape. It's such a common metaphor as to have moved past cliché into a new meaning.

Broke into means to break something so as to gain access to something or somewhere (burglars break into houses, and in some jurisdictions this is a separate offence to both the vandalism and the trespassing entailed). Here the speaker is referring to the fact that they stayed within the ¤100,000+ region after this - they moved from one state to another, and stayed in the latter. It's a bit of a clumsy use though, to my mind.

Priorities about what counts as "failing at life", is another matter...

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  • Just my impression, but I think using the phrase "broke into (x region)" comes not so much from breaking into a physical location as it does the aviation term, "breaking into" as in "We broke into clear air above 4,000 ft..." Like a plane "breaks into" a new stratum, so the speaker "broke into" the six figure stratum...
    – Bob
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 20:39
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A good start might be to read

Fillmore's "The Grammar of Hitting and Breaking".

There's quite a lot going on here.

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