Crack of dawn


Senior Member
I know this is sunrise, but what does crack mean here?

Dictionary 1:
"The crack in this term alludes either to the suddenness of sunrise or to the small wedge of light appearing as the sun rises over the horizon.

Dictionary 2:
Crack: A moment; an instant: at the crack of dawn.


  • Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hello Bmo,

    Your two dictionaries do seem at odds with each other. I can't think of another phrase where crack means a sudden moment. We do say that dawn breaks; for me the image is of one thing breaking and something else (the day) emerging from it, like a baby bird from an egg.


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Here's the OED

    b. The break (of dawn, of day). colloq. (orig. dial. and U.S.).

    1887 Outing (U.S.) X. 7/1 At ‘crack of day’ as the sergeant of the guard expressed it, the stir of camp was started by waking up the cook. 1899 DICKINSON & PREVOST Gloss. Cumberland 146/2 Crack o' day, the first dawning before sunrise. 1923 C. E. MULFORD Black Buttes ii. 27 You boys git what sleep you can. We'll round 'em up at the crack of dawn. 1929 J. B. PRIESTLEY Good Compan. II. v. 375 ‘And when will it arrive at Middleford?’.. ‘About the crack of dawn, I suppose.’ 1948 W. S. MAUGHAM Catalina xxix. 185 He had slipped away at crack of dawn.
    It's as Thomas said: something breaking - and I suppose a crack is something suddenly or instantaneous.


    Senior Member
    English, UK
    The noun meaning "split, opening," is 14c. Meaning "try, attempt" first attested 1836, probably a hunting metaphor, from slang sense of "fire a gun." (Online Etymological Dictionary),
    The basic idea would seem to be suddenness as indicated by the questioner, but transferred in the sense of the thread from an auditory to a visual context. One speaks of hearing the crack of a rifle (explosion, shot), and one says, "Let me have a crack at it", meaning let me try to do that/ solve the problem apparently referring to the suddenness of the onset of the attempt.
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