AE 275 – Expression: To Cost An Arm And A Leg

Learn Australian English in this episode of Aussie English where I teach you how to use the expression TO COST AN ARM AND A LEG like a native.

AE 275 – Expression: To Cost An Arm And A Leg

G’day guys. Welcome to this episode of Aussie English.

Today, we are going to be covering the expression “to cost an arm and a leg”, “to cost an arm and a leg”.

But first, I just want to say hello to all of the new listeners, if you’re listening for the very first time.

Welcome to Aussie English. I hope you enjoy these episodes.

All you need to do is sit back, relax, listen, and just practice your Australian English in the exercises at the ends of these episodes.

So it’s a Saturday morning. It’s close to lunch it’s about 11:30AM.

I just got back from a brunch, a meal between lunch and breakfast.

So you normally have this between 10 and 11 o’clock in the morning, brunch.

I had a brunch with my housemate Richard. We went out to a place called Hot Poppy, which is a cafe on a street called Errol Street in the suburb of North Melbourne where I live in Melbourne.

So it’s not too bad. It’s pretty cold this morning.

So I was all rugged up, and we had some nice cappuccino coffees and chicken burgers.

I really like chicken burgers, and I always get this same chicken burger at this cafe called Hot Poppy.

So it’s amazing. It has like jalapeños, parsley, crispy spicy chicken, and then some really nice aioli sauce that goes with the bun.

And you get a little bit of chips on the side.

So, it’s not the healthiest meal, but it is incredibly tasty.

So, we drove out, did that, hang out there for about an hour or so, and then just got back a few minutes ago, and I decided to make this episode.

So let’s go through the expression, guys, to cost an arm and a leg. To cost an arm and a leg.

As usual, we will define the words that are used in the expression first, and then we will define the expression itself.

So the verb “to cost”, “to cost” is for something to require the payment of an amount of money before it can be acquired or done.

So if it’s a thing before it can be acquired you have to pay a certain amount of money.

If it’s an action you have to pay a certain amount of money before it can be done to cost.

So you could say that, “Today, at Hot Poppy the chicken burger cost $18, it cost me $18”.

So that’s the verb “to cost”, “to cost”. “An arm”. I’m sure all of you know what “an arm” is.

It’s one of the two upper limbs on the human body that extend out from the shoulder.

And “a leg” is one of the two lower limbs on the human body that extend out from the hips.

So, your limbs, your limbs. Your arms and your legs. Your limbs. I’m sure you guys know what those are.

So, as a whole though, the expression “to cost an arm and a leg”, as a whole expression, the phrase “cost an arm and a leg” is used to describe anything that is considered to be extremely expensive or excessively pricey, that is to cost more than it really should.

And so, if a person thinks the cost of something is unreasonably high they may use this common idiom to describe the price of this thing or the cost of this thing.

So if I thought today that that burger at Hot Poppy was ridiculously expensive, if I thought it was unreasonably high in price, excessively costly, excessively pricey, I could say, “Jesus! This burger costs an arm and a leg.”

So, you can also sort of express this idea by using any synonym for “a lot”, “a lot”.

As in many, heaps, lots. So, check out the video I did on 15 different ways to say “a lot” that I’ll link in this episode.

But you can say things like, “it costs a lot”, “it costs a ton”, “it costs a heap”, “it costs a shit load”, “it costs a bucket load”, or “it costs and arm and a leg”.

So there are many many many many many ways to say that “it costs a lot”.

You just have to say “it costs” and then one of these different ways of expressing “many”, “much”, “a lot”.

So, as usual, let’s go through the origin, guys, the origin of this expression.

I looked this up, and the origin of this expression wasn’t really very clear.

There were a few guesses as to where it could have come from in the past.

And so, one theory is that the saying or the expression originated in the early 20th century.

So, in the 1900s during the First World War or the Second World War.

And so the idea being that soldiers, because of their heavy involvement in a war, because they were heavily involved with war and because they were always in the firing line, so in the line of fire, sometimes these soldiers unfortunately lost a hand, a foot, a leg or an arm.

And thus, war could literally cost a person there or leg, which is a very high price to pay.

So going to war, you could say figuratively “it costs an arm and a leg” in that it costs a lot of money.

And then, you could say, literally war “costs an arm and a leg” if someone gets injured and literally has lost an arm or a leg.

Another theory is that the phrase may simply derive from an older expression or from older expressions that also use legs and arms as ways to describe high cost.

And so there is another expression that we use in English, which is to give your right arm for something or you could say to give your left arm for something, and sometimes it can be quite vulgarly used.

It can be quite inappropriately used for men who might say they would give their left nut for something.

So, I wouldn’t use that but I felt like mentioning it because it’s funny.

And when they say “nut”, “nut” is a slang term for testicle.

So sometimes vulgar men will use this kind of comment to talk about a woman that they would like or something incredibly expensive that they would like.

And so the expression I would give my right arm for something, this dates back even earlier.

So this dates back to a time in the 18th century so the 1700s.

Whereas the earliest recording for something to cost an arm and a leg dates to 1951.

So, the middle of the 20th century post World War 2.

So, as usual guys, we’ll go through some examples, although we’ve already gone through a couple there.



So, I imagine number one, that you are trying to buy a house in Australia.

So, this is something I’m currently faced with as someone who is in the first part of their life, doesn’t own a house yet, housing prices in Australia in Sydney and then Melbourne in particular as well are insanely high.

They’re ridiculously high. For instance, pretty much any house within 30 minutes of the Melbourne CBD is going to cost $600,000 dollars or more to buy.

It’s going to be above half a million dollars and so there’s the big housing crisis in Australia for young people who are trying to buy their first home and they can’t afford it because of the ridiculous house prices.

And so, you could say that “buying a house in Australia costs an arm and a leg”.

“It costs an arm and a leg to buy a house in Melbourne”.

“It costs an arm and a leg to buy a house in Sydney”.

“It’s gonna cost us an arm and a leg to buy our first house”.

“Houses cost an arm and a leg.


Example number two. Imagine that you are sending your kid to a private school in Australia.

So, I went to a private school in Geelong called Geelong college, and it was a pretty nice school.

It was a little pretentious for my liking where they were a little bit snobby and up themselves, especially the rich kids that went there.

So, my family wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but Geelong College was the best option my parents decided for a high school to send me to in that area.

And so, they sent me there. My parents decided that they wanted to send me to Geelong College, but it came at a high price.

And so, in Australia we have public schools, which are only funded by the government, and these tend to be the schools that most people go to, because there are a lot more affordable.

And then we have private schools, which are funded primarily by fees that people pay to send their children there, but they also receive money from the government.

And so, there’s quite a bit of an argument between how much money they should receive from the government compared to public schools etc. that goes on in Australian life and Australian media quite a bit.

And so, these schools can actually cost upwards of $20,000/year. When I was a teenager.

So, they’re ridiculously expensive. It’s probably even more nowadays.

So, I could say that, “it cost my parents an arm and a leg to send me to private school”.

“It costs my parents an arm and a leg to send me to Geelong college, to that private school.”

“Going to a private school costs an arm and a leg”, and I could say that “private school fees cost an arm and a leg in Australia”, and probably anywhere in the world I think.


So, number three imagine that you have a court case. So, you’re going to court.

You’re going to sue a dodgy, sketchy, unscrupulous company. So imagine you’re a tradie.

You’ve been working on a work site. So, this is where tradesmen go to work.

And the safety there is really bad. The safety standards are really poor.

The company that is organising the work that’s done there, that owns the job is really dodgy.

They’re really sketchy meaning that they are untrustworthy, they cut corners, they bend the rules in order to try and save money with regards to the cost, in order to try and save money at the cost of your safety.

And maybe they’re trying to get things done as quickly as possible. So you end up getting injured somehow.

Maybe you fall from some scaffolding because there wasn’t a protective barrier there to keep you and other workers safe.

And so, your boss and company should have had the right safety precautions in place so that this incident wouldn’t have happened.

And so, because this happened it was reported to Workplace Health and Safety, and this is the organisation that represents people who are injured at work, and they make sure that companies have a safe work environment for their employees.

So, you and the Workplace Health and Safety end up taking this dodgy company, this sketchy company to court.

You want to sue them. So you want to take them to court and say they need to pay a certain amount of money.

And maybe it is an incredibly large amount of money. So you want to sue them for a $1,000,000.

And imagine that if you win you could say that, “because this dodgy company didn’t care about safety its workers went and sued the company and it cost the company an arm and a leg”.

So, “being sued cost the company an arm and a leg”.

And if the injury had been so severe that you actually lost an arm or a leg then you could say that, “working for this dodgy company, working for this sketchy company, this untrustworthy company cost me an arm and a leg literally. But then I sued them for a million dollars and it cost them an arm and a leg figuratively.”

So, hopefully you get the expression “to cost someone or to cost something and arm and a leg” now guys.

Hopefully, there’s a lot of good examples in this episode, and as usual, let’s go through a little listen and repeat exercise.

So, listen and repeat after me guys. Practice your pronunciation.

If you’re trying to practice your Australian accent then say things exactly as I say them.

Let’s go.

Listen & Repeat:

To cost.
To cost.
To cost an arm.
To cost an arm.
To cost an arm and a leg.
To cost an arm and a leg.
To cost an arm and a leg.
To cost an arm and a leg.

It costs an arm and a leg.
That costs and I mean a leg.
This costs an arm and a leg.
These cost an arm and a leg.
Those cost an arm and a leg.

And I’m just going to quickly go through those last five sentences guys and I want you to pay attention to the word “and”, the word “and” between an arm and a leg.

Listen & Repeat:

It costs an arm and a leg.
That costs an arm and a leg.
This costs an arm and a leg.
These cost an arm and a leg.
Those cost an arm and a leg.

So, the reason I wanted you to focus on the word “and” is because quite often this word really gets reduced down to just an ‘n’ sound, an ‘n’ sound.

So, not only does the D at the end of “and” sort of disappear, and it becomes “an’ a leg”, but also the A at the start can disappear where it will become “arm ‘n’ a leg”, “arm ‘n’ a leg”, “arm ‘n’ a leg”.

And it just becomes a lot more fluid, a lot more easier for natives to speak incredibly quickly.

And so we’re going to be focussing on practicing this sound of how “and” is contracted in this episode of Aussie English.

We’re going to do it in the Aussie English Supporter Pack.

There’s going to be exercises for you guys to practice how to pronounce the word “and” like a native, but for everyone who’s just listening now let’s go over these four sentences, and I’ll say them at native speed for you to listen and practice your pronunciation quickly.

Listen & Repeat:

Him and I.
Him and I.
The cat and the dog.
The cat and the dog.
Houses and buildings.
Houses and buildings.
Australia and New Zealand.
Australia and New Zealand.

So that’s it for this episode guys.

I hope you enjoy it, and remember, if you want bonus exercises to increase the speed of your learning of Aussie English definitely check out the Aussie English Supporter pack.

It’s $1 to try it for a month and you’ll get a heap of bonus exercises.

This episode today, we’re going to have the vocab table and glossary going over or the difficult vocab.

We’re going to have listening comprehension questions for this episode.

We’re going to have substitution exercises focussing on the phrasal verbs “to end up” and “to wind up”.

And then, we’re also going to have slang that we went over in this episode.

A pronunciation and connected speech exercise targeting the word “and”.

And then, we’re going to be practicing the past tense in the grammar exercise.

So I hope you have a great weekend guys and I will chat to you soon.

All the best.

Not a Member yet?

itunes-logo (1)
spotify-small (1) (1)
icon-stitcher (1)

Get more out of every episode!

Here's what you get when you sign up!

  • Read while you listen using the Premium Podcast player.
  • Understand every word in every episode.
  • Download all PDF transcripts and MP3s for 600+ episodes.
  • Get access to bonus member-only episodes.

Download my eBook!

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    Recent Podcast Episodes

    Related Articles


    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.