out on a limb

out on a limb


  1. a part or member of an animal body distinct from the head and trunk, as a leg, arm, or wing: the lower limbs; artificial limbs.
  2. a large or main branch of a tree.
  3. a projecting part or member: the four limbs of a cross.
  4. a person or thing regarded as a part, member, branch, offshoot, or scion of something: a limb of the central committee.
  5. Archery. the upper or lower part of a bow.
  6. Informal. a mischievous child, imp, or young scamp.

verb (used with object)

  1. to cut the limbs from (a felled tree).


  1. out on a limb, in a dangerous or compromising situation; vulnerable: The company overextended itself financially and was soon out on a limb.


  1. an arm or leg, or the analogous part on an animal, such as a wing
  2. any of the main branches of a tree
  3. a branching or projecting section or member; extension
  4. a person or thing considered to be a member, part, or agent of a larger group or thing
  5. mainly British a mischievous child (esp in limb of Satan or limb of the devil)
  6. out on a limb
    1. in a precarious or questionable position
    2. Britishisolated, esp because of unpopular opinions


  1. (tr) a rare word for dismember


  1. the edge of the apparent disc of the sun, a moon, or a planet
  2. a graduated arc attached to instruments, such as the sextant, used for measuring angles
  3. botany
    1. the expanded upper part of a bell-shaped corolla
    2. the expanded part of a leaf, petal, or sepal
  4. either of the two halves of a bow
  5. Also called: fold limb either of the sides of a geological fold

n.1“part or member,” Old English lim “limb, joint, main branch of a tree,” from Proto-Germanic *limu- (cf. Old Norse limr “limb,” lim “small branch of a tree”), a variant of *liþu- (cf. Old English liþ, Old Frisian lith, Old Norse liðr, Gothic liþus “a limb;” and with prefix ga-, source of German Glied “limb, member”), from PIE root *lei- “to bend, be movable, be nimble.” The parasitic -b began to appear late 1500s for no etymological reason (perhaps by influence of limb (n.2)). In Old and Middle English, and until lately in dialects, it could mean “any visible body part.” The lymmes of generacion were shewed manyfestly. [Caxton, “The subtyl historyes and fables of Esope, Auyan, Alfonce, and Poge,” 1484] Hence, limb-lifter “fornicator” (1570s). To go out on a limb in figurative sense “enter a risky situation” is from 1897. Life and limb in reference to the body inclusively is from c.1200. n.2late 14c., “edge of a quadrant or other instrument,” from Latin limbus “border, hem, fringe, edge,” of uncertain origin. Klein suggests cognate with Sanskrit lambate “hangs down,” and English limp. But Tucker writes that “the sense appears to be that of something which twists, goes round, or binds … not of something which hangs loose,” and suggests cognates in Lithuanian linta “ribbon,” Old Norse linnr “whether.” Astronomical sense of “edge of the disk of a heavenly body” first attested 1670s. n.

  1. One of the paired jointed extremities of the body; an arm or a leg.
  2. A segment of such a jointed structure.

  1. One of the appendages of an animal, such as an arm of a starfish, the flipper of dolphins, or the arm and leg of a human, used for locomotion or grasping.
  2. The expanded tip of a plant organ, such as a petal or corolla lobe.
  3. The circumferential edge of the apparent disk of a celestial body.

In a difficult, awkward, or vulnerable position, as in I lodged a complaint about low salaries, but the people who had supported me left me out on a limb. This expression alludes to an animal climbing out on the limb of a tree and then being afraid or unable to retreat. [Late 1800s] see out on a limb; risk life and limb.

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