An Arm and a Leg

Meaning of “An Arm and a Leg”

The phrase “an arm and a leg” means a considerable amount of money or something very expensive. Most often this phrase is used with the addition of the verb “cost” which points to the amount of money to be paid for something you purchase or for some service.

Origin of “An Arm and a Leg”

The phrase might have been used in print for the first time in Sharpes’s London Journal. It has used it in its edition published in 1849 which has referred to it as “his right arm cut off” related to the amount of money spent.

The phrase is supposedly used in an American paper, Burlington Daily Haw-Eye, in July 1875 publication. It was only used as “takes a leg.” Later it has been modified in another paper, The Long Beach Independent newspaper in its December 1949 publication. It has been used by the editor of the food section, Beulah Karney when presenting ideas for homemakers. He has also used the verb “cost” along with the phrase.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

An Arm And A Leg by Phil Soar

It cost me an arm and a leg
When I left the prosthetics store
I went in there with an open mind
And I won’t go there no more.

The above short poem shows the use of this phrase with the verb “cost.” The phrase is mentioned in its current use. The poet has stated the fact that prosthetic medical equipment is so expensive that it cost him “an arm and a leg” to purchase a prosthetic arm or a leg. Perhaps the poet expected the replacements to be cheaper. Therefore, the poet has beautifully used the phrase in its denotative meaning, showing irony.

Example #2

In the Enemy’s Arms by Marilyn Pappano

 “Cate protested leaving her suitcase in the locked wire basket at the dive shop. She didn’t care if people stowed thousands of dollars’ worth of gear there on a daily basis. The items in that bag were all she had on the island with her. The stethoscope tucked into her medical bag in that suitcase was the best for picking up subtle heart sounds; it had been a med school graduation gift from her parents, and she wasn’t sure she could even hear anymore on lesser models. She didn’t wear much makeup, but what she wore would cost an arm and leg to replace, and her favorite well-broken-in sneakers were in there, too.”

This is the story of a physician, Dr. Cate Calloway, who takes care of orphans of La Casa town despite the harassment from the local bullies. She has only one person to rely on, her ex-husband’s friend. This paragraph talks about how Cate lives and how she behaves. The phrase has been used for the clothes and shoes she was wearing that cost her “an arm and a leg”. The expression here means that though she didn’t wear makeup, she spent much money on other things to look beautiful.

Example #3

The Power of Flies by Lydie Salvayre

“I didn’t know that was him. Or Cleopatra’s nose either, I’ll be damned! The heart has reasons of which the mind knows nothing, I thought that was a proverb. You never stop learning, that’s what’s great about life. A nail-studded belt, good Lord, to do what with? To think better? The guy has to be a little nut; people have the weirdest ideas sometimes, I swear; gives me the creeps just thinking about it. As if there weren’t already enough misery in the world; ah well, to each his own. Look at the gorgeous ceiling! It’s magnificent; how far does that date back, that magnificent ceiling? It is unbelievable how well preserved it is. Unbelievable. I’d sure take it as my country home. Not me, I can tell you that right now; no, honestly, I mean it; I prefer my little shack, I mean, just to heat the think would cost an arm and a leg.”

The story of a tour guide, The Power of Flies defies all norms of storytelling by presenting his interrogative way of exploring the inner recesses of his mind. The paragraph given above taken from this novel shows it amply how he inquires himself of several things. It has questioned his own state of mind. The phrase has been used by the end of the paragraph to tell that the ceiling has cost a lot of money to the owners.

Example #3

Mr Body, the Head by John Rice

Our Head, Mr Body, is six feet tall,
he’s always on his owes and has a heart of gold.
He has a finger in every pie
and a chip on his shoulder.

He doesn’t stand for any cheek
and so we don’t give him any lip
-and we don’t talk back.
Mr Body knows when were pulling his leg
and he says, ‘Hold your tongue,
just you knuckle under and toe the line.
I want no underhand tricks here!’

He says our new school
cost an arm and a leg to build.
He had to fight for it tooth and nail.

Mr Body says he shoulders the burden of
and ends up doing the work of four people.
That must make him a forehead.

Here the poet describes a person who could be the head of the school and very strict. Mr. Body expresses the conflict between physical passions and rational thinking. The phrase has been used in the third stanza. Mr. Body tells that the new school has taken a lot of money and effort. In other words, it is very expensive and time-consuming to become a rational thinker. He also expects the others to share the responsibility. Therefore, the use of this phrase is suitable here.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “Do not count on Jack. His business has already cost him an arm and a leg.”

Example #2: “That prom dress had cost me an arm and a leg. Certainly, I will wear it again.”

Example #3: “Did you see Sam’s new phone and Bluetooth speakers? I bet it cost him an arm and a leg.”

Example #4: “These days organic food costs an arm and a leg, but the cost of the gadgets is declining.”

Example #5: “Gordon is a very rich man, and he can afford everything. Even if it costs an arm and a leg.”