Arms Akimbo

Meaning of “Arms Akimbo”

The phrase “arms akimbo” means to stand straight and to place hands on hips and elbows pointed outwards. It is a typical style which shows the haughtiness or arrogance of the person. It is often used by women to show surprise, defiance, or pride as well.

Origin of “Arms Akimbo”

The phrase “arms akimbo” has been derived from “kenebowe” which was used by Geoffrey Chaucer in his popular work, Canterbury Tale, as “set his bond in kenebowew.” Later, the spellings became standardized. The phrase or terminology might have been used even before Chaucer, but controversy exists about its origin.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Pre-Text By Marie Ponsot

(for Douglas, at one)

Archaic, his gestures
hieratic, just like Caesar or Sappho
or Mary’s Jesus or Ann’s Mary or Jane
Austen once, or me or your mother’s you

the sudden baby surges to his feet
and sways, head forward, chin high,
arms akimbo, hands dangling idle,
elbows up, as if winged.

The features of his face stand out
amazed, all eyes as his aped posture
sustains him aloft
a step a step a rush
and he walks,

Young Anyone, his lifted point of view
far beyond the calendar.

What time is it? Firm in time
he is out of date—

like a cellarer for altar wines
tasting many summers in one glass,

or like a grandmother
in whose womb her
granddaughter once
slept in egg inside
grandma’s unborn daughter’s
folded ovaries.

Declaring this shape or human being or female archaic intertwined with a male, Marie Ponsot has beautifully discussed the existence of female. She creates imagery of different styles including this defiant style of standing “arms akimbo”. The poet has stated that it is also adopted by a child. However, the later stanzas, precisely the last one, shows that it is used for female though the poet has used masculine voice for this style. The use of this phrase is intended to show defiance.

Example #2

Akimbo by Ani DiFranco

What dreams cause me
To abandon my pillow each night?
Push away each of them, in fact
Since there always seem to be more than one

Then wake to aching stiff neck twisted
T*** and face smashed against the mattress
Legs and arms akimbo
Like the high pitched body of a jumper

Waiting for her chalk outline
Finally at rest

These words shed light on the sleeping style and dreams. Perhaps they also talk about unrequited love. She starts the first stanza with the impacts of dreams. She presents how a human body reacts and moves to the dreams in the sleep. However, in waking life, the writer expresses that she is prepared to face the challenge and be at rest.

Example #3

A Red Army Story by Alexander Mathew

 “Nothing vexes as much as another person’s voice that won’t stop. Igor rolled up his sleeves and brandished his fists, addressing the ceiling”
‘That’s not love! Love cuts off everything … and nothing matters to it!’
‘What a drag!’ a harsh daughter sang out suddenly. ‘These folks who live to teach life to others!’
Arslan was standing in the squad bay, his arms akimbo and his jackboot impressing Alex’s blanket with its black shine.

The story is set during the final days of the USSR. It is a satirical fictional work that presents Alex, a regular soldier, embarking upon his quest to find the true Russian character. However, he meets general characters like Arsalan, who is standing there “arms akimbo” when Alex sees them. This style has impressed Alex.

Example #4

From “Children’s Prattle” by Hans Christian Anderson

I am a child of the bed-chamber,” she said. Now she might just as well have been a child of the cellar, for nobody can help his birth; and then she told the other children that she was “well born,” and said that no one who was not well born could get on far in the world: it was of no use to read and to be industrious, if one was not well born one could not achieve anything.

“And those whose names end with ‘sen’” said she, “they cannot be anything at all. One must put one’s arms akimbo and make elbows quite pointed, and keep them at a great distance, those ‘sen’!”

This paragraph has been taken from Hans Christians Anderson’s story ‘Children’s Prattle’, which discusses the behavior of children based on their status. Different children address this issue by relating to their own families. The girl of a bed-chamber relates the story saying that a child should be well born instead of born in an educated and industrious family. She states that there must be a style that she refers to as “arms akimbo” using this phrase, which means standing boldly.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “Despite hearing people insult her in public, she is standing, arms akimbo, smiling as if she doesn’t care.

Example #2: “When an army officer is talking to his juniors, he always keeps his arms akimbo to display authority.”

Example #3: “Justin had his arms akimbo and was staring at them with the mix of anger and disgust.”

Example #4: “Susan reached at the top of the cliff, smiling, with arms akimbo she tried to catch her breath.”

Example #5: “Anna took off his jacket, sat with arms akimbo at the dinner table, which she smilingly and absent-mindedly fixed his large eyes at the blueberry pie.”