Posted by R. Berg on March 31, 2005
In Reply to: " questions posted by David FG on March 31, 2005
: : : : : : : : 1) Does anyone know where 'out on a limb' comes from?
: : : : : : : : 2) Cheap at half the price - should that be 'double' not half? Cheap at half the price does not make sense - if something is cheap then it will be even cheaper at half the price. To express suprise of the cheapness of an item, the saying should surely be 'thats cheap at double the price'
: : : : : : : As far as your second question goes, the fact that it doesn't make sense is, I think, the whole point. It is meant to be a joke.
: : : : : : : DFG
: : : : : : From the Archives via ESC:
: : : : : : OUT ON A LIMB - "In an exposed or dangerous position. One can surmise that the literal origin of this saying was the treed animal, which was highly vulnerable to the hunter if it got out on a limb. The saying originated in the United States and by 1897 had acquired its figurative meaning, which is seen in 'Wolfville' by A.H. Louis: 'Several of us.seein' whatever we can tie down and brand, when some Mexicans gets us out on a limb.'" From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985).
: : : : : The 'cheap' here applies not to the price but the quality. Thus something which is poorly made could still be regarded as cheap even at half the original price.
: : : : ...or the person saying "cheap at half the price" simply doesn't care that they're technically incorrect. Lots of people say "I could care less" which doesn't make sense either, but the people who say it couldn't care less. Tone, situation, and body language convey the message if we don't analyze it closely.
: : : My understanding is similar to that of J. Briggs. The word 'cheap' relates to the quality and the expression is used in a negative sense, i.e., not that the person is expressing that they "got a bargain" but rather it would still be cheap (referring to poor quality) even if they had only paid half the price.
: : Seems like it's one of those ambiguous phrases.
: It seems that I am in good company in my opinion, then.
I understand "cheap at half the price" to be a joke based on the deceptive pitches of the fast-talking salespeople of earlier times who took advantage of customers' failure to scrutinize every word. The cheapness refers to price, not the quality of the goods.