What does 'them's the breaks' mean in Boris Johnson's resignation speech?

The phrase sparked interest after being used by departing UK prime minister

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Boris Johnson said he would resign as British Prime Minister on Thursday in a speech delivered outside No 10 Downing Street.

In his address, Mr Johnson said that he was standing down because it was "clearly the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader".

He said that he was “immensely proud of the achievements of this government,” that he said included Brexit and standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

As a former journalist known for his playful use of language and extensive vocabulary, Mr Johnson’s reference to the “Darwinian” system of government and the “herd” of British politics came as no surprise.

But one phrase stood out to listeners, causing a spike in search queries online.

Explaining his reluctance to resign, Mr Johnson said the following: “I want people to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them’s the breaks.”

But what does “them’s the breaks” actually mean?

According to online English dictionary website Lexico, which is a collaboration between Dictionary.com and the Oxford University Press, “them’s the breaks” is an informal phrase meaning “that’s the way things turn out”.

Despite Mr Johnson’s use of British English, the phrase appears to have its roots in the US.

Online forum users debating the phrase’s origins suggested it was first used in the game of billiards, and meant the equivalent of “those are the rules” or “that’s the way it is”.

One user suggested the phrase refers to the result of the opening shot in billiards or pool, known as the break, which shapes the rest of the game for the players, whether advantageous or otherwise.

Lexico adds that it is often used to express resigned acceptance of a situation – a fitting use for Mr Johnson as he eventually succumbed to weeks of pressure and accepted his downfall.

Watch the full speech here:

Updated: July 08, 2022, 10:04 AM