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Up in arms

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 14, 2008 at 13:41

In Reply to: Up in arms posted by Bob Adams on July 14, 2008 at 12:10:

: I have been trying to explain to two German visitors the phrase 'Up in arms'. No trouble with the meaning, but any ideas of the origin? It sounds as though a person or persons would have been 'up in arms' when preparing for a fight. Prior to this they would be highly annoyed with the action of someone else, the meaning which it now has. Am I right?

I see the problem. When I throw myself on the mercies of the Oxford English Dictionary, I find the phrase, "in arms," which they define as "armed, furnished with weapons, sword in hand, prepared to fight," while "up in arms" gives us only a little difference: "in active readiness to fight,actively engaged in struggle or rebellion." The current preference is for "up in arms," the other being usually replaced by armed, or furnished with weapons, or some other phrase. I would take the "up" to indicate not only armed, but eager to fight. Obviously this phrase is often used figuratively.

Both phrases were used in the 16th century, and both are found in Shakespeare: Love's labours lost , V. ii. 636, "Heere comes Hector in Armes"; and Henry VI, Part 2 , IV. i. 93, "Hating thee, and rising vp in armes."