Posted by ESC on September 25, 2003

In Reply to: Saying posted by betty on September 25, 2003

: Where did it "cost an arm and a leg" originate?

: Thanks,

Some theories from the archives:

Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day says this phrase comes from the U.S. and that its probable origin is another phrase, "if it takes a leg!" About the latter phrase, he says "'Threat of a desperado, in search of revenge' (George P. Burnham, 'Memoirs of the United States Secret Service,' 1872): US underworld: c. 1850-1910. Even at the cost of a leg."

An arm and a leg - "A large sum of money; as if worth two of one's four limbs." From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable revised by Adrian Room (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999, Sixteenth Edition). No origin is given.

There's another Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable entry that sounds like it might have a connection:

Chance one's arm - "To run a risk in the hope of succeeding and obtaining a profit or advantage. The.phrase is of army origin. A non-commissioned officer who offends against service regulations risks demotion and the loss of a stripe from his sleeve."