Why Do Things Cost "An Arm And A Leg"?

Unfortunately the origins of this idiom aren't super clear. What we do know is that people say an object will "cost an arm and a leg" to imply it's very expensive, and that the phrase likely originated in America around the 1930's, and started being used in print in the 1950s.

Other than that, here are some guesses as to its origin:

1. Painters would base their portrait-prices on how many limbs needed to be painted, and would charge extra for arms and legs.

2. Many soldiers who fought in World War I lost limbs, making life extremely difficult (and therefore costly).

3. Early 20th-century factories were very dangerous, but the jobs were worth it, even if a worker lost a leg or an arm in the process, because the work would make money.

4. Some gruesome forms of capital punishment were used for a period of history, where someone by law could get their arm cut off for stealing, have their legs crushed, etc. So the criminal act could literally cost a person a limb.

5. It's an extension of the phrase "to give one's right arm for". Since that's usually the dominant stronger arm, if the speaker is willing to sacrifice it, the object in question must be very valuable.

6. It came from the phrase "if it costs a leg!" used by desperadoes seeking revenge or criminals involved in illegal activity. It would be worth it for them to do these acts even if it "cost them a leg" along the way.

7. It came from the army phrase "to chance one's arm", used to describe a risky situation that could come with great reward. In this scenario, the "arm" the soldier would lose upon failing would be a rank, and thus a stripe from his arm's sleeve.

Anything I missed?


Founder vs. Flounder

Did you know that some people who say the verb "flounder" actually mean "founder"?

This kind of thing always blows my mind. After I used flounder incorrectly at work, one of my bosses showed me the following entry in a book, 100 Words Almost Everyone Mixes Up or Mangles, that she purchased for me a few months ago. :)
Flounder, verb:
1. To move clumsily or with little progress, as through water or mud.
2. To act or function in a confused or directionless manner; struggle.

Founder, verb:
1. To sink below the surface of the water.
2. To cave in, sink.
3. To fail utterly, collapse.

"If a student is foundering in Chemistry 101, he had better drop the course; if he is floundering, he may yet pull through."
Since I didn't know that founder the verb existed until now, I definitely have been using flounder for all of those meanings!

Think about this: if a person flounders in the water, that person will likely founder at times.



Trademarks, Copyrights, & Patents

Do you know what the difference is between these things?

As my former student Andrew pointed out, I have no real idea. :) So let's learn!

According to him:

Copyrights are for protecting an artists' creative works.
ie. J.K. Rowling has the copyright to the Harry Potter series.

Trademarks are for protecting the names and identifying marks used in commercial activity.
ie. The Target Corporation owns the trademark for its bulls-eye-target icon.

Patents are for scientific inventions, including machines, drugs, and the like.
ie. Apple has the patent for the iPod (and lucky them!).

Trademarks and copyrights don't need to be registered, though you get extra enforcement rights if you do register them. Patents have to go through the United States Patent & Trademark Office, and they have reviewers who look at applications and check to see whether the invention is actually new enough for a patent.

I could look all of this stuff up for you to name a source, but I believe Andrew! Thanks!


Sleepy Words

I can always count on Reader's Digest to teach me things!

Here are some sleep-related words and their meanings that you can throw around during this hibernation season:

Somniloquist, noun: sleep talker

Hypnopompic, adj: prewaking

Torpor, noun: state of sluggishness

Quiescent, adj: at rest

Bruxism, noun: teeth grinding

Soporific, adj: sleep-inducing

Did you know there were words for all these things? Feel free to use them to impress your friends. For example:

"Danny's wife's bruxism often woke him throughout the night, so he found himself in a torpor most days. If that wasn't enough, she was also a somniloquist in her hypnopompic state! Danny loved his wife, but he cherished Sunday afternoons when he could read a boring soporific book and finally be quiescent napping on the couch."

See? You probably wouldn't have understood that story at all 24 hours ago. :)


Happy Valentine's Day!

Some people say that Valentine's Day was created by the greeting-card companies just to make a profit. Is it true? Where did Valentine's Day come from?

It actually has Catholic religious origins, dating back to 496 AD, when Pope Gelasius I established the day to commemorate the martyr Valentine (although the Feast of Saint Valentine was removed from the General Roman Calendar by Pope Paul VI in 1969). Based on the earliest historic records, Valentine was martyred for trying to convert Roman Emperor Claudius II to Christianity.

Okay. Not very romantic yet.

Folklore has claimed that instead Valentine spent his life in jail for protesting Claudius's law prohibiting military men to marry. Further, legend states that Valentine wrote the first "Valentine's Day card" to the jailer's daughter, whom he loved. However, there is no historical proof of these stories.

So, minus the folklore, how could the jump from martyr to romance happen?

Some people say that it has to do with associating St. Valentine with "sacrificial" love (for God), which just became love in general, then "romantic" love.
Others say that the original February holiday of St. Valentine got mixed together with the Ancient Roman Lupercalia Festival of fertility.
Others associate the origins with George Chaucer's 1382's Parlement of Foules, which contains the line, "For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate".
... and on and on...

Regardless, Valentine's Day poetry and letters appear to have long-standing tradition in Europe and the United States. As early as 1797, British publishers were banking on helping people express their Valentine's Day love on paper.

To get back to the original question, though, I doubt that there were greeting-card companies in the 14th century (or earlier) when this all began, but someone decided to make this holiday what it is now! And the reasons seem to have nothing to do with St. Valentine himself. So I don't believe that a company began this holiday, although the greeting-card companies are certainly taking advantage of it (rightly so! good economics!).

Either way, hope you all have a love-filled day!