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Is there any difference in meaning between dry up and break off in the sense of stopping talking suddenly? For example:

I dried up in the meeting when the boss asked me a question.

I broke off in the meeting when the boss asked me a question.

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  • You normally break off from (stop doing) one thing in order to do something else (feasibly, to rest; do nothing, but that certainly doesn't suit the context here). Nov 5 '20 at 14:29
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Break off from X means to detach or disengage from X, so you can say:

I broke off from the meeting when the boss asked me a question.

To break off without from means to bend something, causing it to physically break and separate.

I broke off in the meeting when the boss asked me a question.

This sounds really strange because -- why would you physically be breaking something in a meeting, and what did you break anyway (the X in break off X doesn't usually refer to persons/people without a lot of strong overriding context). Breaking off from X when X is a team works prefectly fine though.


I dried up in the meeting when the boss asked me a question.

In some regions this might be idiomatic/well-used to mean "stopping talking suddenly" but I couldn't say which ones (BrE speakers might know something I as an AmE speaker do not). IMHO this sounds like you are saying that you are literally dehydrating.

It's possible to use dry up figuratively, but just like water is thing that actually dries up when it rains, speech/words would be the thing that dries up when you can't talk, not yourself. E.g.

My ability to speak dried up in the meeting when the boss asked me a question

but even that doesn't fully work well, because drying is not an instananeous action, unless you explicitly say so like this:

My ability to speak instantly dried up when the boss asked me a question.

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  • dried up - If you dry up when you are speaking, you stop in the middle of what you were saying, because you cannot think what to say next. Source

I dried up in the meeting when the boss asked me a question.

This would mean that you started talking, but didn't have much information or knowledge to continue your talk, so you stopped abruptly.

  • broke off - If you break off when you are doing or saying something, you suddenly stop doing it or saying it. Source

I broke off in the meeting when the boss asked me a question.

This doesn't really sound idiomatic. Someone breaks off when they are already in between a conversation. It wouldn't necessarily convey the meaning that you were not able to speak because of something, like lack of knowledge or nervousness. Breaking off can mainly occur during a video conference or an online mode of communication.

When your Boss has asked you a question, you would either not speak at all or speak limited words. Hence the first sentence sounds more idiomatic in this case.

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    Breaking off when speaking normally happens because something interrupts or startles the speaker, or they have a sudden thought which affects what they are saying. "He broke off as a man rushed into the room." It would be used mainly following direct speech - we wouldn't say "I broke off in the meeting." Nov 5 '20 at 11:28

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