[ ahrm ]
/ ɑrm /




"The Handmaid's Tale" was required reading for many of us in school. Everyone else has probably watched the very popular and addictive TV show. Do you remember this vocabulary from the book, and do you know what these terms mean?
Question 1 of 10

Idioms for arm

Origin of arm

before 900; Middle English; Old English earm; cognate with Gothic arms, Old Norse armr, Old Frisian erm, Dutch, Old Saxon, Old High German arm (German Arm) arm; Latin armus, Serbo-Croatian rȁme, rȁmo shoulder; akin to Sanskrit īrmá, Avestan arəma-, OPruss irmo arm; not akin to Latin arma arm2


armed, adjectivearm·like, adjective


alms arms

Definition for arms (2 of 2)

[ ahrm ]
/ ɑrm /


Usually arms. weapons, especially firearms.
arms, Heraldry. the escutcheon, with its divisions, charges, and tinctures, and the other components forming an achievement that symbolizes and is reserved for a person, family, or corporate body; armorial bearings; coat of arms.

verb (used without object)

to enter into a state of hostility or of readiness for war.

verb (used with object)

Origin of arm

1200–50 for v.; 1300–50 for noun; (v.) Middle English armen < Anglo-French, Old French armer < Latin armāre to arm, verbal derivative of arma (plural) tools, weapons (not akin to arm1); (noun) Middle English armes (plural) ≪ Latin arma, as above


arm·less, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020


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

British Dictionary definitions for arms (1 of 4)

/ (ɑːmz) /

pl n

Word Origin for arms

C13: from Old French armes, from Latin arma; see arm ²

British Dictionary definitions for arms (2 of 4)

/ (ɑːm) /



(tr) archaic to walk arm in arm with

Derived forms of arm

armless, adjectivearmlike, adjective

Word Origin for arm

Old English; related to German Arm, Old Norse armr arm, Latin armus shoulder, Greek harmos joint

British Dictionary definitions for arms (3 of 4)

/ (ɑːm) /

verb (tr)

to equip with weapons as a preparation for war
to provide (a person or thing) with something that strengthens, protects, or increases efficiencyhe armed himself against the cold
  1. to activate (a fuse) so that it will explode at the required time
  2. to prepare (an explosive device) for use by introducing a fuse or detonator
nautical to pack arming into (a sounding lead)


(usually plural) a weapon, esp a firearm
See also arms

Word Origin for arm

C14: (n) back formation from arms, from Old French armes, from Latin arma; (vb) from Old French armer to equip with arms, from Latin armāre, from arma arms, equipment

British Dictionary definitions for arms (4 of 4)


abbreviation for

adjustable rate mortgage
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Medical definitions for arms

[ ärm ]


An upper limb of the human body, connecting the hand and wrist to the shoulder.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with arms


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.