An Arm And a Leg

Have you ever heard someone say, “That costs an arm and a leg!” and thought, “Wait, what? That seems a bit extreme for a price tag.” Well, don’t worry, they’re not actually suggesting you sell your limbs to afford something. Let’s explore this phrase further to see what’s going on.


The phrase “an arm and a leg” refers to something that has a high price. It suggests that the cost being asked is unreasonably steep or not worth it. Here are three key points for the meaning of this idiom:

What It Means
1. An arm and a leg means that something has a high or exorbitant cost attached to it.
2. It describes a price that is excessive and therefore unaffordable or not worth pursuing.
3. The high fee might be likened to the worth of a literal arm and leg, which are vital parts of the body.

Example: The repairs on my car ended up costing me an arm and a leg, but it was necessary for my upcoming road trip.

Note: While the idiom “an arm and a leg” refers to something that is overpriced, the phrase “a dime a dozen” highlights something that is cheap and easily obtained. Find alternative synonyms that can be used in place of this expression to diversify your language usage.

Costs an arm and a leg.
Expensive things will cost you one of these. Figuratively speaking, of course.


If you want some synonymous words or phrases for “an arm and a leg,” consider using one of these:

  • Costs a fortune
  • Pay through the nose
  • Top dollar
  • Costs a pretty penny
  • Empty one’s wallet
  • Pricey as a pearl
  • High-priced
  • Expensive
  • Costly
  • Pricy

If you find yourself in a situation where the price of something is too steep for your budget, you can say it costs “an arm and a leg.” You could also use synonyms, such as “pay through the nose,” “expensive,” and “burn a hole in my wallet” to express those thoughts. All of these are simply alternative ways to refer to pricy things. Now, there are more idioms to read about on here, so don’t forget to explore to learn what they all mean.

“An Arm and a Leg” Origin

The origin of this phrase is unclear. There are, however, a few theories as to where it may have come from:

One theory is that this saying originated from the early 20th century, possibly during one of the major World Wars. The idea being that soldiers, because of their heavy involvement in war and being in the line of fire, can possibly lose a hand, foot, leg, or arm. Thus, the war would literally cost the person their arm or leg, which is a high price to pay.

Another theory is that this phrase may simply derive from older expressions that also use the terms “arms” and “legs” as ways to describe a pricy expense. For example, there’s an expression that goes “I would give my right arm” that dates back to at least the late 18th century. An early example of this is written in a magazine called The Lady’s Magazine: Or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely to Their Use and Amusement, 1790, and it reads:

“This is my sole desire—my only passion; and in order to gratify it, I would give my right arm, and my entire fortune.”

Thus, perhaps the phrase “an arm and leg” derives from older, similar expressions like the one mentioned above. Whatever the case, the earliest citation I could find for this particular phrase being used in writing is around the mid-20th century. For example, in the comic section of a Long Beach Independent newspaper, 1951, a narrator from one of the comics says:

“It cost them an arm and a leg to fix up a rumpus room for junior!”

Examples and Sentences

Here are examples of how to use this idiom in a sentence:

  • The silver watch he wanted would cost an arm and a leg, so he decided against it.
  • They had to pay an arm and a leg for those large soft carpets, but the comfort it would bring to their feet was worth it.
  • When the heater was replaced, we had to pay with not only our arms, but also our legs. Given the cold weather, we had little choice but to go through with the expense.

In these examples, notice how this everyday saying is used to describe the high price tag of each item. Something being excessively priced is the central meaning of “an arm and a leg.”