Up In Arms – Meaning, Origin


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

Example: Larry went to the hospital because he was very ill. The doctor told him he needed to have surgery, but it would be expensive. Larry had hoped his insurance company would help cover the costs, however, he’s having problems getting them to do so. He and his family are up in arms about this. (In other words, they are very upset.)

Synonyms/Related: a chip on your shoulder, having a bone to pick

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. These weapons might be seen as an “add-on” to the arm, an extension of it, and so the word developed these meanings from that.

In any case, long ago if a person was “up in arms,” it meant that they had weapons equipped 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 seems this phrase originally referred to “angry people with weapons” and then later the “weapons” part was dropped and now it has become an idiom that simply means “an angry person.”

Tip: If you liked reading about this expression, we have a list of more English phrases starting with “U” and “V” that you can check out.

Sentence Examples

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

Related Example:

  • My boss is so rude! I’ve had a bone to pick with him for a long time.
  • 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.

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