Up In Arms – Meaning, Origin


The phrase up in arms means that someone is angry about something; they are upset.

Example: Larry is sick and his doctor told him that he needs to have surgery. The cost of the procedure is quite high, so he and his family are up in arms about the whole situation. (In other words, they are very upset.

1. A chip on your shoulder
2. Have a bone to pick
3. Riled up
4. Upset, angry

The Origin Of ‘Up In Arms’

Let’s talk about the word “arm” for a moment. It’s a word that is sometimes used in connection with weapons. For example, “firearms” refer to guns. We might also say someone is “armed,” which means they have a weapon on them. In addition, phrases like “arm yourself” and “at arms, men!” essentially mean to prepare a weapon for combat.

How did the word “arm” become associated with weapons? It’s not entirely clear, but it may have to do with the fact that in order to wield weapons, whether it’s a sword or a gun, having arms is necessary to use them.

In any case, long ago if a person was “up in arms,” it meant that they were equipped with weapons and were ready to fight. This phrase makes early appearances in different plays from the late 1500s. For example, it’s found in the play King Richard III by William Shakespeare, 1591:

“March on, march on, since we are up in arms;

If not to fight with foreign enemies,

Yet to beat down these rebels here at home.”

So it looks like this phrase originally referred to “angry people with weapons” and then later the “weapons” part was dropped. Now, it has become an idiom that simply means “an angry person.”

Tip: If you liked reading about this expression, the phrase “an arm and a leg” might interest you. Or you can check out more English phrases starting with “U” and “V” for a list of them.

Sentence Examples

  • After his car broke down in the middle of the street, Winston was up in arms because now he was going to be late for his brother’s wedding.

Similar Examples:

  • I have a bone to pick with my roommates; they are always leaving dirty dishes in the sink and they hardly ever clean them!
  • She had a chip on her shoulder ever since she was slighted by her coworker.

Note: We have the meaning and origin of hundreds of common phrases. Use the alphabetical list at the top to find them.