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An Arm and a Leg: More Than Just Body Parts

When someone says something costs “an arm and a leg,” they’re not talking about a gruesome medical procedure. This colorful idiom is a way of saying something is extremely expensive. Let’s dive into the meaning, origin, and how to use this expression like a native speaker.

What Does “An Arm and a Leg” Mean?

This hyperbolic phrase implies that something is so costly that it’s as if you’d have to give up your essential body parts in exchange. Historically, your arms and legs were essential for survival. They represented your ability to work, provide, and defend yourself – essentially, your entire livelihood.

Where Does It Come From?

The exact origin is a bit murky, but there are a few interesting theories:

  • Value of Limbs: As mentioned above, arms and legs were fundamental to daily life in the past. The concept of their extreme value likely led to the phrase.
  • Portrait Paintings: Some believe it might reference the practice of portrait artists charging more for full-body paintings (with arms and legs) than head-and-shoulder portraits.

Appropriate Use (with Examples)

Use “an arm and a leg” to emphasize the high cost of things, experiences, or services. Here are some examples:

  • “Buying a house in this market will cost an arm and a leg.”
  • “Those concert tickets cost me an arm and a leg, but the show was worth it!”
  • “My car repairs cost an arm and a leg.”

When Not to Use It

Avoid using the phrase in these situations:

  • Formal Settings: “An arm and a leg” is informal. Opt for “very expensive” or “costly” in professional or more serious contexts.
  • Literal Interpretations: Don’t use it when discussing actual injuries or medical costs. This can be insensitive.

Sharpen Your English Skills

The idiom “an arm and a leg” adds a fun, expressive touch to your English conversations. Understanding its meaning and appropriate use will help you communicate your thoughts about costs in a more impactful and colorful way.


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<a href="https://englishpluspodcast.com/author/dannyballanowner/" target="_self">Danny Ballan</a>

Danny Ballan


Danny is a podcaster, teacher, and writer. He worked in educational technology for over a decade. He creates daily podcasts, online courses, educational videos, educational games, and he also writes poetry, novels and music.

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