Over the years people have come into my office and they eventually ask, “What’s that going to cost?” It’s sort of an emotional question that just comes out because they really have no idea what things cost if they haven’t been exposed to something similar. If you need a new transmission for your car and it won’t run, you’re a captive audience. You ask, “How much will it cost?” but you also know the answer is going to be somewhere in the stratosphere. It could be very expensive. It could cost an arm and a leg.
An arm and a leg. I’ve heard that term over the last forty years quite a bit. “Older” people say it more because if it’s too expensive when it comes to the mouth, they’re of the generation that says, “Just pull it out. It’s in the back and I don’t need it!” Yeah, if you’re a rabbit and chew grass on your front teeth you won’t miss it. But most of us are carnivores (yay meat and potatoes, chicken and rice, etc ). We chew with those guys in the back that we don’t see when we crack that big smile when the IRS refund check comes in the mail. But I digress.
So I think for many years, “an arm and a leg” is like losing a tooth but 100 times worse. That must be some sacrifice considering I think losing a tooth is a big sacrifice. But then a good friend of mine passes me a bit of information. He tells me where the expression costing “an arm and a leg” comes from. It’s very interesting and I never had an inkling where it’s from. So if you put up with this writing here comes the pay off!
Back in George Washington’s day when his picture was painted, you might notice he was seated at a desk, or in another he might have one hand behind his back. That’s because painters charged for each hand or foot they had to paint because those limbs were difficult to get proportions right. Thus they would charge for four limbs if they were all in the picture or two feet if old George put his hand behind is back. The man was thrifty! Thus the expression, charging you “an arm and a leg” if that’s what you wanted painted. (That’s actually half price considering most of us have two arms and two legs! But again I digress.)
Thank goodness today we can take pictures on our cell phones and crop, copy, correct and send them out to everyone on the internet for less than the cost of a piece of paper or a phone call.
Some guy who thinks a crown costs an arm and a leg and would rather pull a tooth and take a step closer to wearing dentures, well, that’s wrong. Washington wore dentures. Wood ones with horse teeth for picture posing and silver ones with ivory teeth for state affairs and Paul Revere made them. But that’s a story for another time.
David Shannon, DDS