Broken Reed: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
January 3, 2024

The term "broken reed" refers to something or someone unreliable or untrustworthy. It's often used to describe a person or object that fails to offer the support or help that was expected. The phrase comes from the idea that a reed, which is supposed to be firm and upright, is useless and unstable when broken.

In short:

  • It describes something or someone that is not reliable.
  • Often used when someone fails to provide expected support or help.

What Does "Broken Reed" Mean?

"Broken reed" is a metaphorical phrase used to express that a person, organization, or thing is not reliable or dependable. It implies that just like a reed that's broken and can no longer stand straight, the person or thing in question cannot be leaned on for support. For example, if a friend consistently fails to keep their promises, you might say, "He's a broken reed." It means you can't count on this person for help or support. It's a way of expressing disappointment in someone's inability to fulfill their role or promise.

More about the phrase's meaning:

  • It is used to point out the failure of someone or something to provide expected support.
  • The phrase can apply to people, objects, or organizations.
  • It often reflects a sense of betrayal or letdown when someone does not meet expectations.
  • This phrase is commonly found in both personal and professional contexts.
  • Similar expressions include "unreliable," "untrustworthy," and "letdown."

Where Does "Broken Reed" Come From?

The phrase is used metaphorically in the Bible, specifically in the book of Isaiah 36:6, where the Assyrian Rabshakeh taunts King Hezekiah of Judah, likening reliance on Egypt to leaning on a broken reed. The metaphor implies that depending on a ‘broken reed’ is to rely on something or someone that offers no real support or is unreliable.

10 Examples of "Broken Reed" in Sentences

Here are some examples to understand how to use "broken reed" in different contexts:

  • If someone calls you a broken reed, they might as well say you're off your rocker.
  • He thought the new software would solve his problems, but it was a broken reed and didn’t work as expected.
  • During the crisis, the government's promises were like a broken reed, offering no real help.
  • He's a little rough around the edges but not a broken reed. Give him a chance.
  • The team counted on their star player, but in the final game, he was a broken reed and didn’t perform.
  • He was at his wit’s end with his partner. He felt like he was leaning on a broken reed that could snap any moment.
  • They thought the new investment was a sure thing, but it turned out to be a broken reed.
  • In her hour of need, the support group she joined was a broken reed, offering no real support.
  • Many shy away from the broken reed, not realizing its potential to be mended and become stronger than before.
  • Their holiday plans relied on the travel agency, which proved to be a broken reed when they went bankrupt.

Examples of "Broken Reed" in Pop Culture

This phrase isn’t as common in pop culture as some others, but it still appears to describe unreliable characters or situations.

Here are some examples:

  • In the movie "Ship Ahoy" (1942), a character says: "Cupid snuck up on me and pierced by epidermis. I'm a broken reed. A chaff in the wind."
  • Edmund Morris, in his book, wrote: "Of all broken reeds,” Roosevelt declared, “sentimentality is the most broken reed on which righteousness can lean."
  • The TV show "Broken Reed" (2017) features the character John, played by Daniel K. Daniel.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Broken Reed"

These are some alternative phrases with similar meanings:

  • Unreliable
  • Untrustworthy
  • Letdown
  • Unsupportive
  • Undependable
  • Unsteady
  • Weak support
  • Flaky
  • Fallible
  • Unstable

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Broken Reed":

  • What does "broken reed" mean?

"Broken reed" is a phrase used to describe someone or something that is unreliable or untrustworthy, similar to a reed that is broken and can't stand upright.

  • How can I use "broken reed" in a sentence?

You can use it to describe a person or thing that fails to provide support or meet expectations. For example: "I thought I could rely on him, but he turned out to be a broken reed."

  • Is "broken reed" a common phrase?

It's not as common as some phrases, but it is still used to convey the idea of unreliability or untrustworthiness.

  • What is the origin of "broken reed"?

The phrase "broken reed" originates from the Bible, where it is used to symbolize weakness and unreliability.

  • Can "broken reed" be used in a positive context?

No, it is generally used in a negative context to describe failure or unreliability.

  • Is there a specific tone associated with "broken reed"?

The phrase often carries a tone of disappointment or disapproval towards someone's inability to provide expected support.

  • Can "broken reed" refer to inanimate objects?

Yes, it can refer to both people and objects that are unreliable or fail to serve their intended purpose.

  • Is "broken reed" used in literature?

Yes, it has been used in literature, especially in older texts, to describe unreliable characters or entities.

  • Are there similar phrases to "broken reed"?

Similar phrases include "unreliable," "untrustworthy," and "letdown."

  • How should one respond if called a "broken reed"?

Being called a "broken reed" is usually a criticism, so a response might involve reflecting on the situation or addressing the concerns raised.

Final Thoughts About "Broken Reed"

The term "broken reed" is a metaphorical way to express unreliability or untrustworthiness, often used in situations where someone fails to provide expected support. It's a powerful expression, useful in describing people or things that don't live up to expectations.

To recap:

  • It is used to describe failure in providing support or meeting expectations.
  • It's generally used in a negative context.
  • The phrase can be applied to both people and objects.
  • It originates from the Bible and carries a tone of disappointment.

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