Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

A report issued by the Royal Society of Arts this week claims that at least 70% of the UK’s working population are ‘chronically broke’. The report, based on a survey of more than 2,000 workers, contains some startling statistics, including the one that 73% of workers have less than £1000 in savings.

As such studies generally do these days, the report divides the population into categories, 7 in this case, with eye-catching names, ranging from The chronically precarious to The strivers and, at the top of the pile, The high-flyers. There is even an online tool for you to work out which category you belong to, should you feel inclined.

English has a large number of words and phrases meaning poor or broke, ranging from the very formal (impecunious) to the informal (stony broke, strapped for cash, skint) and the colourful (on your beam ends, on your uppers, on Carey Street and many more).

Broke comes from the verb break, of course, from an obsolete past participle (we now say broken) and was first used with this meaning in the early 18th century. The use of broken with this meaning is earlier, being used by Shakespeare in Richard II (1597), but we would not now say that someone was broken (except in the emotional sense). We do talk about breaking the bank, however, both in the context of gambling, and in order to say that something is not expensive.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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