Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

November 24, 2013


Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 5:57 am



I am certain that you have heard someone use the phrase, “That cost me an arm and a leg.”  We understand it to mean that it refers to something of great cost or value.  It is in common usage, but where did it originate?  Here again, research reveals interesting data.

Most “experts” tell us that the phrase dates back to at least the 1800s and involved portrait painters.  Since there were no cameras back then, if one wanted a portrait done it had to be done by these painters on canvas. It seems that the portrait painters would charge more for larger paintings and that a head and shoulders painting was the cheaper option.  If one wanted the arms and legs included, the price was much more due to the extreme detail involved in painting the limbs.  Thus the phrase “costing an arm and a leg” was born.

Other “experts” disagree with this and argue that the saying originated around World War one. It is a grim reality that there were many US newspaper reports of our servicemen who had lost an arm and a leg in the war.  It is possible that the phrase originated in reference to the high cost paid by those who suffered such amputations.

Another possibility is that the expression derived from two earlier phrases: “I would give my right arm” and “even if it takes a leg”, which were both coined in the 19th century.  An example in print is from an 1849 edition of Sharpe’s London Journal: “He felt as if he could gladly give his right arm to be cut off if it would make him, at once, old enough to go and earn money instead of Lizzy.”

Consequently, the “experts” cannot agree on when or where the phrase originated, but does it really matter?  Perhaps you have heard of the conversation between God and Adam in the Garden of Eden.  God came to the Garden to reveal to Adam that He was going to give him a helper, or a mate.  Adam was confused and asked God for more information on this “helper”.  God explained that his helper would be a female, something Adam had never seen.  “She will be a perfect companion.  She will bear your children without complaint.  She will make your home into a perfect place to live.  She will never get sick.  She will attend to your every desire, and never have a headache.  She will clean the dishes, wash your clothes, and clean the house without complaint.  She will treat you like a king.”

Adam thought about this new revelation for a minute then asked God a question.  “What is this new creature going to cost me?”  God replied, “An arm and a leg.”  After pondering this information, Adam asked God, “Well, what can I get for just one rib?”  And the rest is history.

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