Certain common phrases entered our vocabulary in an interesting way. Take, for example, “It will cost you an arm and a leg.”
I learned its origin a while ago on a trip to the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. As the docent led the group through the home and studio of the famous Wyeth family – illustrator N. C. Wyeth, his artist son Andrew and artist grandson Jamie, she stopped at a portrait done during the 19th century by a possible Wyeth ancestor.
The portrait showed only the man’s head and shoulders. The docent explained that in those days if a client wanted an artist to paint a fuller depiction of himself, he would have to pay more. If he wanted his arms shown, there would be an additional charge and a full-length painting would increase the cost considerably. Therefore, the suggestion of a higher price – “It will cost you an arm and a leg.”
If you’re a word detective or know the origin of a common phrase, I’d love to hear from you.