Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group.

WORD ORIGIN

"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."

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.

MORE RELATED WORDS FOR OUT ON A LIMB

behind the eight ball

adjectivein a jam
Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group.