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.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


3 responses to “Them’s The Breaks: Logic Won’t Always Help You Remember”