“Brekkie,” “Brekky”

As I mentioned in the last post, I spent January in Australia, where there is virtually no word too short to be abbreviated. One of the most prominent is the first meal of the day, which is rendered as “brekky.” Or “brekkie.”

Hungry Jack’s is Australia’s version of Burger King.

I saw both versions with what seemed like equal frequency. Unsurprisingly, there’s been debate on the issue, as in this article (which punted) and a Perth subreddit where someone posed the question: “Brekky, breaky or brekkie?” Most of the answers were facetious, but among the serious ones, “brekkie” beat out the “brekky” by a score of 3-2. “Breaky” does sometimes show up in the wild but, as some of the commenters pointed out, it’s been contaminated by the Billy Ray Cyrus song “Achy Breaky Heart.”

According to Corpus of Global Web-Based English (GloWbE), Australia leads the world in the use of both terms, with “brekky” being slightly more popular. Here’s the chart for “brekkie”:

Although Australia has outstripped both countries, the abbreviations started out in Britain and Ireland. The OED has a quote from the 1904 children’s book The Phoenix and the Carpet, by E. (Edith) Nesbit: “I’ve brought your brekkie, and I’ve put the little cloth with clover-leaves on it.” And in Elizabeth Bowen Ann Lee’s (1926), “Do call poor Bingo in..and give him his brekky.” Bingo is a spaniel. The first use in reference to adults I’ve seen is Green’s Dictionary of Slang’s citation of a line from Joyce’s Ulysses (1922): “And then, when they settled down in a nice snug and cosy little home, every morning they would both have brekky, simple but perfectly served.”

In her youth, in the same period as the Bowen and the Joyce, Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother, was partial to yet another variation. From her diary:

My sense is the words took off in Australia in mid-century but lay dormant in Britain till the 2000s, when both rose sharply, especially “brekkie.” Here’s a Google Ngram Viewer chart showing use in British English:

America has lagged behind, obviously.. GloWbE, which tracks usage in 2013-14, shows nine “brekkies” in U.S. sources, but even that’s deceiving, as most of them are quotes from Brits or Australians. However, there’s been a slight uptick in recent years, and I’ve labeled the terms “On the Radar” instead of “Outliers.” Here’s a graphic from a U.S. kids’ news service, posted just last week:

And Denver Post sports columnist Mark Kiszla wrote this in 2021: “The best breakfast in the world is a freshly baked almond croissant, eaten on a ski lift in Val d’Isere, France. Got get up early and move fast if you want to brekky with me, pal.”

Sign me up.

12 thoughts on ““Brekkie,” “Brekky”

  1. Interesting that this is more Australian, as I have thought of it as very British, in the same way that “telly” and “footie” (for football) are. There are probably others, but those are what come to mind.

  2. I’m a Brit and have heard/seen Brekkie as a noun in the UK for many years. I’ve never seen it written as Brekky, or used as a verb.

    1. And this morning at The Exe Valley Farm Shop café in Devon (now that I am looking for such things), I came across “The Exe Valley Breaky”. Which is clearly meant to be a breakfast, but is a word that I would naturally pronounce as brakey.

  3. There seem to be a disproportionate number of Australian coffee places in London and New York, and when I visited Sydney, everyone told me Australians were famous for their coffee and breakfast. I know Australians or New Zealanders gave us the flat white. So I expect these U.S. establishments may get Americans using “brekkie,” even if, as often happens, we’re much more comfortable typing/writing it at first than saying it out loud. I recently ordered a “brekkie sandwich” from an Australian coffee shop called Gertrude in Manhattan, so I was excited to see your post.

  4. There was a TV commercial in the 1970s or 80s (or 60s?) – I’m pretty sure it was in the U.S. and not just Canada, in which a chubby businessman gets into an office elevator when his stomach rumbles loudly and as the doors close, he says, “No brekkie!” Of course, I have no idea how he thought it was spelled…

  5. Never heard ‘brekky’, but ‘brekker’ is part of my passive vocabulary. Other words in BrE used to have ‘-er’ instead of ‘-y’ or ‘-ie’, like ‘footer’ for football. On the subject of spelling, obviously -y should be preferred to ‘-ie’ because it’s shorter.

  6. English East Midlands: I’ve seen ‘brekkie’ in print, but I can’t swear that I’ve heard it in real life. On the other hand, like Graham, ‘brekka’ is very familiar to me (brekka feels like the right spelling) – I may well have said the word myself.

  7. That graphic may be from a US kids news service but the brekky/brekkie definitely looks UK. I have never been served baked beans for breakfast in the states, the bacon looks streaky rather than crisped right up as North Americans like it and the toast is – perhaps – dry rather than hot buttered. So, whoever illustrated the article may have grabbed a familiar breakfast depiction and diminutive

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