Chancing Your Arm (Phrase History)

To Chance Your Arm is to take an uncalculated risk, where the outcome is completely unknown. A blind bet, if you like. There are several suggestions for the origin of this saying, one being that military men, whose rank was displayed in the way of stripes on their sleeves, would take battlefield risks, which could equally lead to promotion, demotion or death, depending upon the outcome. A better explanation (at least one that is more fun) dates back to Ireland as long ago as 1492. During a feud between two distinguished families, the Kildare’s and the Ormond’s, Sir James Butler, the Earl of Ormond, and his family took sanctuary inside St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

Door of Reconciliation

The Kildare’s took siege outside until Gerald Fitzpatrick, the Earl of Kildare, decided the feud had gone too far and attempted reconciliation. But the Ormond’s were suspicious of his offer of peaceful settlement and refused to leave the Cathedral. As a desperate measure to prove his good intentions Fitzgerald ordered a hole to be cut into the Cathedral door and then thrust his outstretched hand through, putting his arm at the mercy of those inside as it could easily have been sliced off. Instead Butler took his hand and peace was restored. It is not known if that is actually the origin of the phrase, but it should be. Either way, the exchange between Fitzpatrick and Butler definitely happened and the door with the hole is now on display at St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Extract from Money for Old Rope Part One

Albert Jack books available for download here

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