Today’s phrase is break the ice from The Taming of the Shrew, Act 1, Scene 2:
PETRUCHIO: Sir, understand you this of me, in sooth:
The youngest daughter, whom you hearken for,
Her father keeps from all access of suitors,
And will not promise her to any man
Until the elder sister first be wed.
The younger then is free, and not before.
TRANIO: If it be so, sir, that you are the man
Must stead us all, and me amongst the rest;
And if you break the ice, and do this feat,
Achieve the elder, set the younger free
For our access- whose hap shall be to have her
Will not so graceless be to be ingrate.
In this play, a man named Baptista has two daughters. Bianca, the younger sister, has a couple men in love with her, but her father will not allow her to marry until his eldest daughter marries. Katherina, the older sister, is sharp-tongued at best. She is like ice – cold and hard to “crack” (it’s hard to reach her heart). Petruchio makes it his mission to break the ice – to woo her and wed her. And he succeeds.
Even now, this is a common phrase. You know when you meet someone for the first time and there’s that awkward moment when you’re standing there, and the other person is standing there, and you’re both just standing there wondering what to say or do. Then one person smiles, or says “Hello,” or sticks out a hand, or comments on the guy in the gorilla suit who just walked past – that person breaks the ice and make it easier for both people to move forwards in friendship, or, in the case of Katherina and Petruchio, as a couple.
So next time you find yourself in that situation, go ahead and break the ice!