No leg to stand on: How idioms originate

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Having suffered a leg injury in December I could not walk and could not drive. I was practically immobile. In my static state I had plenty of time to think. I was reminded that everything that happens in the body is a result of what is happening in the mind.

I couldn’t put my finger (another body part) on it but I mulled over the possible causes of my condition.

The most obvious was the phrase ‘not having a leg to stand on’.  My condition was literally that, but figuratively I could not think of any situation that would render me legless although I do have to appear in court as the appellant at the end of January. Experts have assured me my position is strong.

According to the Collins online dictionary “If you say that someone does not have a leg to stand on, or hasn’t got a leg to stand on, you mean that a statement or claim they have made cannot be justified or proved.


It’s only my word against his, I know. So, I don’t have a leg to stand on.”


Research suggests that this phrase originated from furniture – a stool specifically. With their one to four-legged varieties, stools were deemed to lose support for each leg that broke off, or be of less support if their design had three, two or even one leg.  Other schools of thought suggest the expression hails from the human leg.

Out of action

And I can confirm that with my leg out of action,  I definitely felt unsupported. I checked up on some metaphysical meanings, which point to career or finance and suggest fears around being able to support oneself.  As I have recently been dismissed from my post at a newspaper, this notion seems to have a much better fit.

Special treatment

Nonetheless I have to see a specialist this week and that is a sure way to threaten one’s financial comfort due to the exorbitant fees that must be paid upfront.

More on leg to stand on

Take the log out of your eye and other idioms

How to keep your powder dry in the 21st century. Idioms from the military

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