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[breyk-buhlk] /ˈbreɪkˌbʌlk/
adjective, Transportation.
of or relating to packaged cargo, usually manufactured goods, that is marked for individual consignees and has to be loaded and unloaded piece by piece at each point of transfer.
Compare bulk1 (def 3), containerization.
of or relating to the small, conventional cargo ships designed to hold such cargo.
Compare containership.
Origin of break-bulk
First recorded in 1615-25


[breyk] /breɪk/
verb (used with object), broke or (Archaic) brake; broken or (Archaic) broke; breaking.
to smash, split, or divide into parts violently; reduce to pieces or fragments:
He broke a vase.
to infringe, ignore, or act contrary to (a law, rule, promise, etc.):
She broke her promise.
to dissolve or annul (often followed by off):
to break off friendly relations with another country.
to fracture a bone of (some part of the body):
He broke his leg.
to lacerate; wound:
to break the skin.
to destroy or interrupt the regularity, uniformity, continuity, or arrangement of; interrupt:
The bleating of a foghorn broke the silence. The troops broke formation.
to put an end to; overcome; stop:
His touchdown run broke the tie. She found it hard to break the cigarette habit.
to discover the system, key, method, etc., for decoding or deciphering (a cryptogram), especially by the methods of cryptanalysis.
to remove a part from (a set or collection):
She had to break the set to sell me the two red ones I wanted.
to exchange for or divide into smaller units or components:
She broke a dollar bill into change. The prism broke the light into all the colors of the rainbow.
to make a way through; penetrate:
The stone broke the surface of the water.
  1. to open or force one's way into (a dwelling, store, etc.).
  2. to contest (a will) successfully by judicial action.
to make one's way out of, especially by force:
to break jail.
to better (a given score or record):
He never broke 200 in bowling or 80 in golf.
to disclose or divulge personally in speech or writing:
He broke the good news to her at dinner.
to solve:
The police needed only a week to break that case.
to rupture (a blood vessel):
She almost broke a blood vessel from laughing so hard.
to disable or destroy by or as if by shattering or crushing:
to break a watch.
to cause (a blister, boil, or the like) to burst, as by puncturing:
She broke the blister with a needle.
to ruin financially; make bankrupt:
They threatened to break him if he didn't stop discounting their products.
to overcome or wear down the spirit, strength, or resistance of; to cause to yield, especially under pressure, torture, or the like:
They broke him by the threat of blackmail.
to dismiss or reduce in rank.
to impair or weaken the power, effect, or intensity of:
His arm broke the blow.
to train to obedience; tame:
to break a horse.
to train away from a habit or practice (usually followed by of).
Electricity. to render (a circuit) incomplete; stop the flow of (a current).
  1. to release (a story) for publication or airing on radio or television:
    They will break the story tomorrow.
  2. to continue (a story or article) on another page, especially when the page is not the following one.
Pool. to cause (racked billiard balls) to scatter by striking with the cue ball.
  1. (of a pitcher, bowler, etc.) to hurl (a ball) in such a way as to cause it to change direction after leaving the hand:
    He broke a curve over the plate for a strike.
  2. (in tennis and other racket games) to score frequently or win against (an opponent's serve).
Nautical. to unfurl (a flag) suddenly by an easily released knot.
to prove the falsity or show the lack of logic of:
The FBI broke his alibi by proving he knew how to shoot a pistol.
to begin or initiate (a plan or campaign), especially with much publicity:
They were going to break the sales campaign with a parade in April.
to open the breech or action of (a shotgun, rifle, or revolver), as by snapping open the hinge between the barrel and the butt.
verb (used without object), broke or (Archaic) brake; broken or (Archaic) broke; breaking.
to shatter, burst, or become broken; separate into parts or fragments, especially suddenly and violently:
The glass broke on the floor.
to become suddenly discontinuous or interrupted; stop abruptly:
She pulled too hard and the string broke.
to become detached, separated, or disassociated (usually followed by away, off, or from):
The knob broke off in his hand.
to become inoperative or to malfunction, as through wear or damage:
The television set broke this afternoon.
to begin suddenly or violently or change abruptly into something else:
War broke over Europe.
to begin uttering a sound or series of sounds or to be uttered suddenly:
She broke into song. When they entered, a cheer broke from the audience.
to express or start to express an emotion or mood:
His face broke into a smile.
to free oneself or escape suddenly, as from restraint or dependency (often followed by away):
He broke away from the arresting officer. She finally broke away from her parents and got an apartment of her own.
to run or dash toward something suddenly (usually followed by for):
The pass receiver broke for the goal line.
to force a way (usually followed by in, into, or through):
The hunters broke through the underbrush.
to burst or rupture:
A blood vessel broke in his nose. The blister broke when he pricked it.
to interrupt or halt an activity (usually followed by in, into, forth, or from):
Don't break in on the conversation. Let's break for lunch.
to appear or arrive suddenly (usually followed by in, into, or out):
A deer broke into the clearing. A rash broke out on her arm.
to dawn:
The day broke hot and sultry.
to begin violently and suddenly:
The storm broke.
(of a storm, foul weather, etc.) to cease:
The weather broke after a week, and we were able to sail for home.
to part the surface of water, as a jumping fish or surfacing submarine.
to give way or fail, as health, strength, or spirit; collapse:
After years of hardship and worry, his health broke.
to yield or submit to pressure, torture, or the like:
He broke under questioning.
(of the heart) to be overwhelmed with sorrow:
Her heart broke when he told her that he no longer loved her.
(of the voice or a musical instrument) to change harshly from one register or pitch to another:
After his voice broke, he could no longer sing soprano parts.
(of the voice) to cease, waver, or change tone abruptly, especially from emotional strain:
His voice broke when he mentioned her name.
(of value or prices) to drop sharply and considerably.
to disperse or collapse by colliding with something:
The waves broke on the shore.
(of a horse in a harness race) to fail to keep to a trot or pace, as by starting to gallop.
Botany. to mutate; sport.
Linguistics. to undergo breaking.
Billiards, Pool. to make a break; take the first turn in a game.
Sports. (of a pitched or bowled ball) to change direction:
The ball broke over the plate.
Horse Racing, Track. to leave the starting point:
The horses broke fast from the gate.
Boxing. to step back or separate from a clinch:
The fighters fell into a clinch and broke on the referee's order.
to take place; occur.
Journalism. to become known, published, or aired:
The story broke in the morning papers.
Horticulture. to produce flowers or leaves.
an act or instance of breaking; disruption or separation of parts; fracture; rupture:
There was a break in the window.
an opening made by breaking; gap:
The break in the wall had not been repaired.
a rush away from a place; an attempt to escape:
a break for freedom.
a sudden dash or rush, as toward something:
When the rain lessened, I made a break for home.
a suspension of or sudden rupture in friendly relations.
an interruption of continuity; departure from or rupture with:
Abstract painters made a break with the traditions of the past.
an abrupt or marked change, as in sound or direction, or a brief pause:
They noticed a curious break in his voice.
  1. an opportunity or stroke of fortune, especially a lucky one.
  2. a chance to improve one's lot, especially one unlooked for or undeserved.
the breaks, Informal. the way things happen; fate:
Sorry to hear about your bad luck, but I guess those are the breaks.
a brief rest, as from work:
The actors took a ten-minute break from rehearsal.
Radio, Television. a brief, scheduled interruption of a program or broadcasting period for the announcement of advertising or station identification.
Prosody. a pause or caesura.
Jazz. a solo passage, usually of from 2 to 12 bars, during which the rest of the instruments are silent.
Music. the point in the scale where the quality of voice of one register changes to that of another, as from chest to head.
a sharp and considerable drop in the prices of stock issues.
Electricity. an opening or discontinuity in a circuit.
  1. one or more blank lines between two paragraphs.
  2. breaks, suspension points.
the place, after a letter, where a word is or may be divided at the end of a line.
a collapse of health, strength, or spirit; breakdown.
Informal. an indiscreet or awkward remark or action; social blunder; faux pas.
Billiards, Pool. a series of successful strokes; run.
Pool. the opening play, in which the cue ball is shot to scatter the balls.
Sports. a change in direction of a pitched or bowled ball.
Horse Racing, Track. the start of a race.
(in harness racing) an act or instance of a horse's changing from a trot or pace into a gallop or other step.
Bowling. a failure to knock down all ten pins in a single frame.
Boxing. an act or instance of stepping back or separating from a clinch:
a clean break.
any of several stages in the grinding of grain in which the bran is separated from the kernel.
Botany. a sport.
Journalism. the point at the bottom of a column where a printed story is carried over to another column or page.
Nautical. the place at which a superstructure, deckhouse, or the like, rises from the main deck of a vessel.
breaks, Physical Geography. an area dissected by small ravines and gullies.
Mining. a fault or offset, as in a vein or bed of ore.
Verb phrases
break away,
  1. to leave or escape, especially suddenly or hurriedly.
  2. to sever connections or allegiance, as to tradition or a political group.
  3. to start prematurely:
    The horse broke away from the starting gate.
break back, Tennis. to win a game served by an opponent immediately after the opponent has done so against one's own serve.
break down,
  1. to become ineffective.
  2. to lose control; weaken:
    He broke down and wept at the sad news.
  3. to have a physical or mental collapse.
  4. to cease to function:
    The car broke down.
  5. to itemize:
    to break down a hotel bill into daily charges.
  6. Chemistry. to separate (a compound) into its constituent molecules.
  7. Electricity. (of an insulator) to fail, as when subjected to excessively high voltage, permitting a current to pass.
  8. to decompose.
  9. to analyze.
  10. to classify.
  11. to separate into constituent parts:
    to break down a beef carcass into basic cuts.
break in,
  1. to enter by force or craft:
    Someone broke in and made off with all the furniture.
  2. to train or instruct; initiate:
    The boss is breaking in a new assistant.
  3. to begin to wear or use in order to make comfortable:
    These shoes haven't been broken in.
  4. to interrupt:
    He broke in with a ridiculous objection.
  5. to run (new machinery) initially under reduced load and speed, until any stiffness of motion has departed and all parts are ready to operate under normal service conditions; run in; wear in.
break in on/upon, to enter with force upon or accidentally interrupt; intrude upon:
The visitor opened the wrong door and broke in on a private conference.
break into,
  1. to interpose; interrupt:
    He broke into the conversation at a crucial moment.
  2. to begin some activity.
  3. to be admitted into; enter, as a business or profession:
    It is difficult to break into the theater.
  4. to enter by force:
    They broke into the store and stole the safe.
break off,
  1. to sever by breaking.
  2. to stop suddenly; discontinue:
    to break off a conversation; to break off relations with one's neighbors.
break out,
  1. to begin abruptly; arise:
    An epidemic broke out.
  2. Pathology. (of certain diseases) to appear in eruptions.
  3. (of a person) to manifest a skin eruption.
  4. to prepare for use:
    to break out the parachutes.
  5. to take out of (storage, concealment, etc.) for consumption:
    to break out one's best wine.
  6. Nautical. to dislodge (the anchor) from the bottom.
  7. to escape; flee:
    He spent three years in prison before he broke out.
  8. to separate into categories or list specific items:
    to break out gift ideas according to price range; The report breaks out quarterly profits and losses.
break up,
  1. to separate; scatter.
  2. to put an end to; discontinue.
  3. to divide or become divided into pieces.
  4. to dissolve.
  5. to disrupt; upset:
    Television commercials during a dramatic presentation break up the continuity of effect.
  6. (of a personal relationship) to end:
    to break up a friendship; Their marriage broke up last year.
  7. to end a personal relationship:
    Bob and Mary broke up last month.
  8. to be or cause to be overcome with laughter:
    The comedian told several jokes that broke up the audience.
break with,
  1. to sever relations with; separate from:
    to break with one's family.
  2. to depart from; repudiate:
    to break with tradition.
break bulk, Nautical. to remove a cargo wholly or in part.
break camp, to pack up tents and equipment and resume a journey or march:
They broke camp at dawn and proceeded toward the mountains.
break even, to finish a business transaction, period of gambling, series of games, etc., with no loss or gain:
He played poker all night and broke even.
break ground,
  1. to begin construction, especially of a building or group of buildings:
    to break ground for a new housing development.
  2. Nautical. to free an anchor from the bottom; break out.
break it down, Australian Slang.
  1. stop it; calm down.
  2. (used as an exclamation of disbelief) that can't be true!
break someone's heart, to cause someone great disappointment or sorrow, as to disappoint in love:
It breaks my heart to hear you are leaving me.
break service, Tennis. to win a game served by one's opponent.
break sheer, Nautical. (of an anchored vessel) to drift into such a position as to risk fouling the anchor or anchor cable.
Compare sheer2 (def 6).
break step. step (def 38).
break wind, to expel gas from the stomach and bowels through the anus.
give me a break, Informal. (used to express annoyance, disbelief, etc.):
He didn't show up again? Oh, give me a break!
before 900; Middle English breken, Old English brecan; cognate with Dutch breken, German brechen, Gothic brikan; akin to Latin frangere; see fragile
Related forms
breakable, adjective
breakableness, noun
breakably, adverb
breakless, adjective
nonbreakable, adjective
rebreak, verb, rebroke, rebroken, rebreaking.
unbreakable, adjective
unbreakableness, noun
unbreakably, adverb
Can be confused
brake, break.
1. fracture, splinter, shiver. 2. disobey, contravene. 6. disrupt. 14. surpass, beat. 22. demote. 34. fragment, smash. 69. rent, tear, rip, rift, split; breach, fissure, crack. 74. stop, hiatus, lacuna, pause, caesura.
1. repair.
Synonym Study
1. Break, crush, shatter, smash mean to reduce to parts, violently or by force. Break means to divide by means of a blow, a collision, a pull, or the like: to break a chair, a leg, a strap. To crush is to subject to (usually heavy or violent) pressure so as to press out of shape or reduce to shapelessness or to small particles: to crush a beetle. To shatter is to break in such a way as to cause the pieces to fly in many directions: to shatter a light globe. To smash is to break noisily and suddenly into many pieces: to smash a glass. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for break bulk
Historical Examples
  • I warrant we will not break bulk, since sic is your bidding.

    The Pirate

    Sir Walter Scott
  • They would not break bulk till they got to their journey's end.

    Greenmantle John Buchan
  • No vessel was allowed to make entry or break bulk until letters brought by it had been handed over to the Post Office.

  • I am sure it is rara avis, for if you once "break bulk," as they phrase it, you are in again for all.

British Dictionary definitions for break bulk


verb breaks, breaking, broke, broken
to separate or become separated into two or more pieces: this cup is broken
to damage or become damaged so as to be inoperative: my radio is broken
to crack or become cracked without separating
to burst or cut the surface of (skin, etc)
to discontinue or become discontinued: they broke for lunch, to break a journey
to disperse or become dispersed: the clouds broke
(transitive) to fail to observe (an agreement, promise, law, etc): to break one's word
(foll by with) to discontinue an association (with)
to disclose or be disclosed: he broke the news gently
(transitive) to fracture (a bone) in (a limb, etc)
(transitive) to divide (something complete or perfect): to break a set of books
to bring or come to an end: the summer weather broke at last
(transitive) to bring to an end by or as if by force: to break a strike
when intr, often foll by out. to escape (from): he broke jail, he broke out of jail
to weaken or overwhelm or be weakened or overwhelmed, as in spirit
(transitive) to cut through or penetrate: a cry broke the silence
(transitive) to improve on or surpass: to break a record
(transitive) often foll by in. to accustom (a horse) to the bridle and saddle, to being ridden, etc
(transitive) often foll by of. to cause (a person) to give up (a habit): this cure will break you of smoking
(transitive) to weaken the impact or force of: this net will break his fall
(transitive) to decipher: to break a code
(transitive) to lose the order of: to break ranks
(transitive) to reduce to poverty or the state of bankruptcy
when intr, foll by into. to obtain, give, or receive smaller units in exchange for; change: to break a pound note
(transitive) (mainly military) to demote to a lower rank
(intransitive; often foll by from or out of) to proceed suddenly
(intransitive) to come into being: light broke over the mountains
(intransitive; foll by into or out into)
  1. to burst into song, laughter, etc
  2. to change to a faster pace
(transitive) to open with explosives: to break a safe
(intransitive) (of waves)
  1. (often foll by against) to strike violently
  2. to collapse into foam or surf
(intransitive) (esp of fish) to appear above the surface of the water
(intransitive) (of the amniotic fluid surrounding an unborn baby) to be released when the amniotic sac ruptures in the first stage of labour: her waters have broken
(intransitive) (informal, mainly US) to turn out in a specified manner: things are breaking well
(intransitive) (of prices, esp stock exchange quotations) to fall sharply
(intransitive) to make a sudden effort, as in running, horse racing, etc
(intransitive) (cricket) (of a ball) to change direction on bouncing
(transitive) (cricket) (of a player) to knock down at least one bail from (a wicket)
(intransitive) (billiards, snooker) to scatter the balls at the start of a game
(intransitive) (horse racing) to commence running in a race: they broke even
(intransitive) (boxing, wrestling) (of two fighters) to separate from a clinch
(intransitive) (music)
  1. (of the male voice) to undergo a change in register, quality, and range at puberty
  2. (of the voice or some instruments) to undergo a change in tone, quality, etc, when changing registers
(intransitive) (phonetics) (of a vowel) to turn into a diphthong, esp as a development in the language
(transitive) to open the breech of (certain firearms) by snapping the barrel away from the butt on its hinge
(transitive) to interrupt the flow of current in (an electrical circuit) Compare make1 (sense 27)
(intransitive) (informal, mainly US) to become successful; make a breakthrough
break bread
  1. to eat a meal, esp with others
  2. (Christianity) to administer or participate in Holy Communion
break camp, to pack up equipment and leave a camp
break ground, break new ground, to do something that has not been done before
to overwork or work very hard
break the back of, to complete the greatest or hardest part of (a task)
break the bank, to ruin financially or deplete the resources of a bank (as in gambling)
break the ice
  1. to relieve shyness or reserve, esp between strangers
  2. to be the first of a group to do something
break the mould, to make a change that breaks an established habit, pattern, etc
(tennis) break service, to win a game in which an opponent is serving
break wind, to emit wind from the anus
the act or result of breaking; fracture
a crack formed as the result of breaking
a brief respite or interval between two actions: a break from one's toil
a sudden rush, esp to escape: to make a break for freedom
a breach in a relationship: she has made a break from her family
any sudden interruption in a continuous action
(Brit) a short period between classes at school US and Canadian equivalent recess
(informal) a fortunate opportunity, esp to prove oneself
(informal) a piece of (good or bad) luck
(esp in a stock exchange) a sudden and substantial decline in prices
(prosody) a pause in a line of verse; caesura
(billiards, snooker)
  1. a series of successful shots during one turn
  2. the points scored in such a series
(billiards, snooker)
  1. the opening shot with the cue ball that scatters the placed balls
  2. the right to take this first shot
(tennis) Also called service break, break of serve. the act or instance of breaking an opponent's service
one of the intervals in a sporting contest
(horse racing) the start of a race: an even break
(in tenpin bowling) failure to knock down all the pins after the second attempt
  1. (jazz) a short usually improvised solo passage
  2. an instrumental passage in a pop song
a discontinuity in an electrical circuit
access to a radio channel by a citizens' band operator
a variant spelling of brake1 (sense 6)
(boxing, wrestling) a command by a referee for two opponents to separate
Word Origin
Old English brecan; related to Old Frisian breka, Gothic brikan, Old High German brehhan, Latin frangere Sanskrit bhráj bursting forth
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for break bulk



Old English brecan "to break, shatter, burst; injure, violate, destroy, curtail; break into, rush into; burst forth, spring out; subdue, tame" (class IV strong verb; past tense bræc, past participle brocen), from Proto-Germanic *brekan (cf. Old Frisian breka, Dutch breken, Old High German brehhan, German brechen, Gothic brikan), from PIE root *bhreg- "to break" (see fraction). Most modern senses were in Old English. In reference to the heart from early 13c. Meaning "to disclose" is from early 13c.

Break bread "share food" (with) is from late 14c. Break the ice is c.1600, in reference to the "coldness" of encounters of strangers. Break wind first attested 1550s. To break (something) out (1890s) probably is an image from dock work, of freeing cargo before unloading it. Ironic theatrical good luck formula break a leg has parallels in German Hals- und Beinbruch "break your neck and leg," and Italian in bocca al lupo. Evidence of a highly superstitious craft (cf. Macbeth).



c.1300, "act of breaking," from break (v.). Sense of "short interval between spells of work" (originally between lessons at school) is from 1861. Meaning "stroke of luck" is attested by 1911, probably an image from billiards (where the break that starts the game is attested from 1865). Meaning "stroke of mercy" is from 1914. Musical sense, "improvised passage, solo" is attested from 1920s in jazz.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for break bulk



  1. An escape or attempt to escape (1830s+)
  2. A brief period of rest or relaxation: Take a five-minute break (1860s+)
  3. A stroke of luck, good or bad • Probably fr the break in billiards, when balls arrange themselves in either a good or bad way: I got a break and made it on time/ Football's a game of breaks to some extent (1911+)
  4. A stroke of mercy or favor: Give me one break and I'll never flunk again
  5. An improvised passage; solo; lick (1930s+ Jazz musicians)


  1. : Let's break while I think about it all
  2. To interrupt or abandon some regular practice: to break training/ break an old routine (1400+)
  3. To happen; occur; fall out: If things break right I'll be OK (1914+)
  4. To tame a wild horse; subdue someone's spirit (late 1400s+)
  5. To bankrupt a company or person (1612+)
  6. To demote; reduce in rank; bust: They broke him back to buck private (late 1600s+)
  7. To separate, esp from a clinch: The boxers broke and came at each other again (1890s+)
  8. (also breakdance or boogie)To do a kind of dancing that evolved in the inner-city ghettos and is characterized esp by intricate writhings and shows of balance and strength close to the floor • Break down was used by 1819 to describe very energetic black dancing: You can go running. You can swim. Or you can break (1980s+ Black teenagers)
  9. (also service break) To win a game from an opponent who is serving (1950s+ Tennis)

Related Terms

coffee break, even break, take a break

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with break bulk
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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