Them's The Breaks: Logic Won't Always Help You Remember

One useful technique to remember a tricky spelling is to try and understand the underlying logic of the phrase. However, if your logic is faulty, your spelling may well be faulty too.

Brakes picture from Shutterstock

My colleague Chris Jager suggested the other day that he could understand why people sometimes get the phrase them's the breaks wrong and write them's the brakes instead. His reasoning? When you resignedly say "them's the breaks", you're often reflecting on a situation where you were stopped or denied from doing something. You think "stop", you think "brakes", and it seems logical.

I'm not sure I totally buy this logic. The Macquarie Dictionary defines the phrase as meaning "that is how life is", which is a succinct definition. It also covers situations where what you do or stop doing makes no difference — someone else might have better luck.

In any case, following that logic is going to lead you to the wrong spelling. The correct version, in virtually all circumstances, is "them's the breaks". You can write "them's the brakes" if you are describing the brakes in a car and feel especially casual. But know what you're saying. Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


    OTOH "Them's the brakes" is fine if you work in car repair.

    It is important to nip these sorts of things in the butt. There is no excuse for messing up sayings like that. :D

      You got the phrase wrong. you 'nib at the bud' and not 'nip at the butt'.

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