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What Does "Go for Broke" Mean?

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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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The English idiomatic phrase “go for broke” means to risk everything for one big reward. This is used in various different contexts to express the idea of taking on the most major risks for the most potential gains. Word historians have identified this phrase as predominantly U.S. slang, where more technical forms of expression might include “to risk or wager everything.”

Originally, most experts agree, this phrase was used in the context of gambling. Playing card games for money has been a popular pastime in English-speaking societies for centuries. Word historians date the phrase “go for broke” to at least 100 years, according to modern references. Many other idioms have been established around the broad pursuit of gambling, which, while heavily regulated in some places, still persists as a common activity.

Along with the phrase “go for broke,” English speakers in past times commonly used phrases like “go all out” or “shoot the works” to express the same idea. In modern English societies, many speakers are more likely to use the common phrase “all in” where the phrase refers to putting all of one’s stake, physically represented by poker chips or money, into a common pot for a specific wager. Many who are familiar with these terms believe that the popularity of the phrase “all in” in modern times has to do with the emergence of a popular game called Texas hold’em, where players are frequently encouraged to bet everything for the entire collective pot.

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In terms of its word choice, the phrase “go for broke” uses the word “broke” to signify the potential result of the subject losing all of his or her money. In popular use, the word “broke” frequently refers to the condition of having no money. Being broke does not necessarily mean being in debt, but it means not having any capital or assets to use to purchase things. Modern English speakers may also use the phrase, “the other side of broke,” to refer to having significant debt that they are unable to pay.

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