- to carry weapons
- to serve in the armed forces
- to have a coat of arms
- a position of salute in which the rifle is brought up to a position vertically in line with the body, muzzle uppermost and trigger guard to the fore
- the command for this drill
QUIZ YOURSELF ON “ITS” VS. “IT’S”!
Word Origin for arms
Words nearby arms
ABOUT THIS WORD
What else does arms mean?
Arms, of course, are the upper limbs of the body. It’s also a term for weapons, especially guns (firearms).
Where does arms come from?
The word arm, as in the body part, is a very old word in English; it’s recorded in Old English and comes from Germanic roots. Arms as in “weapons,” comes from the Latin arma, “tools of war,” which passed into English from French in the 1200s.
In the Middle Ages, arms referred to various weapons (e.g., bows and arrows, catapults) and equipment of war, including defensive shields and armor. Today, arms for weaponry can sound a little dated, except for expressions like arms race, first used in the 1920s for the competitive buildup of weapons between nations (then nuclear arms race) and later extended as a metaphor for any competition.
Another common arms-related expression is to take (up) arms, “to prepare for a (literal or figurative) fight.” Shakespeare’s Hamlet used the phrase in the famous “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy:
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,|
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep;
No more …
The opposite expression, and just as familiar, expression is to lay down arms, or “surrender” or “stop fighting.” This is also used in reference to actual or imaginary combat.
By the late 1600s, the word arms was narrowing to its current sense of firearms, such as pistols and rifles. These arms are at the center of the much debated language of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
A coat of arms was originally a type of outerwear that medieval knights wore in battle. They bore heraldic symbols representing who they were and who they were fighting for. Families and organizations later adopted these emblems as crests.
To be up in arms, which dates back to the late 16th century, means “ready to fight” and later, “very upset.”
How is arms used in real life?
On its own, arms for “weapons” sounds more formal, showing up in more historical texts and legal contexts. Expect to hear arms, though, in the discussion of gun rights in the U.S. surrounding the Second Amendment.
Also expect to hear arms in its related verbal form, to arm, “equip with a weapon,” (e.g., if a cop yells “He’s armed and dangerous!”). Armed, here, usually means carrying a gun.
More examples of arms:
“March on, march on, since we are up in arms;
If not to fight with foreign enemies,
Yet to beat down these rebels here at home.”
—William Shakespeare, Richard III, 1592–93
“China joins Russia in signaling it will veto any US resolution to extend arms embargo on Iran & resist snapback.”
—@farnazfassihi, May 2020
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for arms
There are parks filled with men pushing strollers and coffee shops where fathers meet their friends, babes in arms.
After the captain made the call to abandon ship, 150 people were able to escape on lifeboats lowered by electronic arms.‘We’re Going to Die’: Survivors Recount Greek Ferry Fire Horror|Barbie Latza Nadeau|December 29, 2014|DAILY BEAST
At the beginning of the video and before the call to kill police, you can hear what sounds like, “arms up, shoot back!”
Some of the slogans used that night—including “arms up, shoot back!”
With help, he got to his feet, and when she hugged him he lifted his arms slightly as if to return the hug.Alfred Hitchcock’s Fade to Black: The Great Director’s Final Days|David Freeman|December 13, 2014|DAILY BEAST
However, on reaching Spain, the magic of the Emperor's personality soon restored the vigour and prestige of the French arms.Napoleon's Marshals|R. P. Dunn-Pattison
One would not have wanted her white neck a mite less full or her beautiful arms more slender.
The two little Pontelliers were with him, and he carried Madame Ratignolle's little girl in his arms.
He stood, with the air of a hero, both arms extended towards the amazed pair of lovers.The Joyous Adventures of Aristide Pujol|William J. Locke
She threw out her arms as if swimming when she walked, beating the tall grass as one strikes out in the water.