cost an arm and a leg

to be very expensive


to cost an arm and a leg = sehr kostspielig; sehr teuer



One of our American friends (who will remain unnamed) was doing business for the first time in a certain Latin American country (which will remain unnamed).

Shocked at the corruption at almost every level of the bureaucracy, our colleague said to his host, "This deal is costing us an arm and a leg in 'special payments' - are there no honest people in this administration?"

"Oh yes, Signor," answered his host, smiling, "We do have a few honest people,... but they are EXTREMELY expensive!"

Paul Smith

Did you

to cost an arm and a leg

: to be very expensive, not just expensive, but excessively so.


Interestingly this commonly used phrase has several possible origins:

The first possible origin was another slang phrase - "If it costs a leg!". This was apparently a phrase used by desperados who were after revenge - even at the cost of a leg.

The second source is the phrase "to chance one's arm". This phrase is of army origin and means to do something at great risk in hope of reward or profit. In this case the risk would be the loss of rank which - in the case of a non-commissioned officer - would be worn upon the sleeve. So you would be risking losing a stripe from your arm. Thus, to chance one's arm.

The third source is from the 1800's. When people commissioned portraits it would have been a lot cheaper to have a painting done of just your head and shoulders. To get your whole body painted would have been many times more expensive. Thus to cost an arm and a leg.


Synonyms for expensive:      

big-ticket, cost an arm and a leg, costly, dear, excessive, executive, exorbitant, extravagant, fancy, high, high-priced, highway robbery, holdup, immoderate, inordinate, lavish, overpriced, plush, posh, pretty penny, pricey, rich, ritzy, sky-high, steep, stiff, too high, uneconomical, unreasonable, upscale, valuable

say something like:

"I always think twice about going to London these days. One night in a reasonable hotel costs an arm and a leg."

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