Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wednesday Trivia!

Last week for Wednesday Wisdom I used a bit of Historical Trivia and I'm going to continue this for a few weeks.

"That will cost you an arm and a leg."  Meaning, something is very expensive or costing much more than it's worth. The origin? Well, apparently there is more than one idea about that!

"In George Washington's days, there were no cameras. One's image was either sculpted or painted. Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms. Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are 'limbs,' therefore painting them would cost the buyer more. hence the expression, 'okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg.' (artists know hands and arms are more difficult to paint)" unknown

This information - apparently - is widely circulated. I usually try to check things out before I publish them and I did the same with this.  And found:

"This is one of those phrases for which it isn't difficult to come across a popular explanation. In this case the tale that is told is that portrait painters used to charge more for larger paintings and that a head and shoulders painting was the cheapest option, followed in price by one which included arms and finally the top of the range 'legs and all' portrait. As so often with popular etymologies, there's no truth in that story. Painters certainly did charge more for large pictures, but there's no evidence to suggest they did so by limb count. In any case the phrase is much more recent than the painting origin would suggest.
It is in fact an American phrase, coined sometime after WWII. The earliest citation I can find is from The Long Beach Independent, December 1949:
Food Editor Beulah Karney has more than 10 ideas for the homemaker who wants to say "Merry Christmas" and not have it cost her an arm and a leg.
'Arm' and 'leg' are used as examples of items that no one would consider selling other than at an enormous price. It is a grim reality that, around that time, there are many US newspaper reports of servicemen who lost an arm and a leg in the recent war. It is quite likely, although difficult to prove conclusively at this remove, that the phrase originated in reference to the high cost paid by those who suffered such amputations."   From "The Phrase Finder"

Our society is filled with Phrases that many of us have heard most of our lives! Some are so old the origin isn't always a 'sure thing'. But I think it's very interesting reading some of the History behind our Historical Trivia!

"Don't spend an arm and a leg shopping this week!"


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