phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Last Legs

Posted by Lewis on January 27, 2003

In Reply to: Last Legs posted by ESC on January 27, 2003

: : Hello, I was just wondering whether any one might know the origin of the phrase "last legs". Thanks in advance for any information.

: It means something or someone is about to break down or give up. "That washing machine is on its last legs."

: I couldn't find an origin in any of my phrase books. But the image I get regarding that expression is an old horse about ready to fall down. That's a guess.

I think it would originate with humans - when you run a great distance and you are about to crumple, the legs feel as if they are no longer part of the body. Those wobbly and exhausted legs could be described as your "last legs" as if they were something different and not just the normal ones in that state. That experience of fatigue and how legs do not feel one's own could then be applied to horses, oxen etc when they are exhausted and thence to inanimate things such as washing machines, cars etc.
Also - a journey can be divided into 'legs' probably because they are not straight and the 'last leg' of a journey is the finish.