Expensive things cost “an arm and a leg” — but why do we say that?

World War II veteran Robert Harris, 90, of Fort Valley, Ga., places his hand on his chest during the singing of the National Anthem at a ceremony where Harris and nine fellow WWII veterans were awarded the French Legion of Honor by the Consul General of France, Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Atlanta. The Legion of Honor is the highest distinction France can award to a citizen or foreigner. The veterans honored fought on French territory as part of the liberation of the country from Nazi Germany and were nominated by President Francois Hollande. Harris was a squad leader and rifleman in the infantry and participated in campaigns in the Ardennes, the Rhineland and Central Europe. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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“I couldn’t believe the price! It cost an arm and a leg!”

We’ve all uttered that phrase at one time or another. But how did we determine that unit of measurement?

According to (a false) legend, “an arm and a leg” has an artistic origin. Back in the day, artists charged more money to paint full-body portraits. Hence, it cost more to have “an arm and a leg” in the painting.

In reality, the phrase started after World War II and has grim roots. Many servicemen paid a high price while fighting for our country — they lost limbs.

The French have a similar phrase that translates to “it costs the eyes from the head.” A Bulgarian equivalent translates to “it costs one’s mother and father.”

More origins of phrases

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