Where did ‘costs an arm and a leg’ originate?

Font Size:

When something ‘costs an arm and a leg’ you are saying it costs an exorbitant amount of money. It’s a popular phrase but do you know where it started?

One theory is that it comes from portrait painters around the 18th century. It was believed that the cheapest way to commission a portrait was to ask for just the head and bust, as painters charged extra for ‘arms and legs’. However, there’s no actual evidence to support this theory. Yes, painters charged more for larger works but there’s no proof that this had anything to do with limbs.

Another theory is that it originated in America sometime after the Second World War. The phrase can be found in The Long Beach Independent newspaper, December 1949:

Food Editor Beulah Karney has more than 10 ideas for the homemaker who wants to say ‘Merry Christmas’ and not have it cost her an arm and a leg.

We can all agree that arms and legs are limbs that no one would consider selling – except for an exorbitant amount. At this time, many servicemen had returned home from the war with lost limbs. It is likely that this origin was in reference to the high cost they paid to serve.

Have you heard any other theories about where this saying originated?

Join YourLifeChoices today
and get this free eBook!

Join
By joining YourLifeChoices you consent that you have read and agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy

RELATED LINKS

Idiom: living the life of Riley

Today we discover the origin of the idiom: living the life of Riley.

Origin of idiom: no skin off my nose

Where does the saying "no skin off my nose" originate?

The origin of ‘chip on your shoulder’

From dockyard to schoolyard: learn the origin of ‘chip on your shoulder'.

Written by ameliath

4 Comments

Total Comments: 4
  1. 0
    0

    It must be a slow Friday. Need to get Leon on to the job.

  2. 0
    0

    Polly Esther, “Slow Friday” is a union expression meaning, don’t do any work, just look like you are doing something. It has been around for 100 years.

  3. 0
    0

    The saying is more likely to have come from sculptors, rather than artists.


FACEBOOK COMMENTS



SPONSORED LINKS

continue reading

Fitness

Exercise proven to aid cancer patients

At Sydney's iconic Bondi Icebergs pool, on a crisp spring morning, Siobhan O'Toole and Donna Moclair look like seasoned swimmers...

Health

How to … safely remove embarrassing stains

Tips and tricks on removing red wine or pasta sauce stains from clothing are readily exchanged between family and friends,...

Podcast

Podcast: Why you need Five Good Friends in your life

Simon Lockyer from Five Good Friends joins John Deeks to discuss how Five Good Friends has revolutionised home care, how...

Living in retirement

I wrote my autobiography. You can too – and you should

Peter Harris is 73 and has finished a project that has absorbed and excited him for more than two decades....

Lifestyle

Dog behaviours and what they mean

Dogs will be dogs. They eat, lick, fetch and give unlimited love. They'll also chew, bite, dig and bark, and...

Community

A prostate catch 22

Columnist Peter Leith takes the time to talk, lobby and observe. In this addition to his Aspects of Ageing true...

Destinations

Max Williams experiences the magic of Lake Mungo

I gaze in wonder at the small bone fragments I am holding. Most likely they are part of a Murray...

Travel News

WA opens borders – but not to everyone

After hard lockdowns, travellers from New South Wales and Victoria have been granted quarantine free access to Western Australia. As...

LOADING MORE ARTICLE...