Go Out On a Limb - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did someone just tell you that they went "out on a limb" for you? This post unpacks this idiomatic expression's origin, meaning, and use.

Go Out on a Limb Meaning

To "go out on a limb" means that you are willing to face adversity for the greater good. You're likely placing yourself in a risky position where you could end up receiving punishment or disrespect while protecting the group from disaster.

You can use the expression to indicate that you're supporting someone or an idea, despite being at a potential disadvantage with your actions. To go out on a limb for someone would be to assume the risk for them on their behalf, regardless of the outcome.

If you "go out on a limb" for someone or something, you may experience a positive or negative result from your actions, depending on the situation. For instance, you could go out on a limb for your child, only to find out that they are the one responsible for the problem.

Go Out on a Limb Example Usage

"That's the last time I go out on a limb for anyone in this department; none of you appreciate the work and effort I put in."

"John is really going out on a limb proposing this conspiracy theory to these guys. I mean, who is going to believe the world is flat?"

"Susan went out on a limb for us and managed to wangle the studio time with the producers. Now we have to create magic to show them what we got."

Go Out on a Limb Origin

The phrase "go out on a limb" originates from the act of climbing trees. The 19th century saw the introduction of the phrase into modern language. An early example of the use of the phrase comes from the Steubenville Daily Herald in October 1895.

The entry in the newspaper reads as follows.

"We can carry the legislature like hanging out a washing. The heft of the fight will be in Hamilton county. If we get the 14 votes of Hamilton, we've got 'em out on a limb. All we've got to do then is shake it or saw it off."

So, in this context, the saying refers to the act of pushing political opponents into a risky situation where you can capitalize on their position to take the win from them. Thus, the phrase evolved to describe risk-taking activity in conversation.

The use of the phrase is common in social and professional language, and you'll hear it everywhere, from the boardroom to the kitchen. The term started appearing in meme culture in 2014, referring to the risk involved with the act of "going out on a limb" for others.

Phrases Similar to Go Out on a Limb

  • Stick my neck out.
  • For the greater good.
  • Put me at risk.

Phrases Opposite to Go Out on a Limb

  • No skin in the game.
  • Risk-averse.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Go out on a limb.
  • Going out on a limb.

Ways People May Say Go Out on a Limb Incorrectly

Some people may use the phrase for its literal meaning. For instance, if your cat climbs the tree and walks out onto a thin branch, they are technically "going out on a limb," but that isn't the idiomatic meaning of the phrase.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Go Out on a Limb

You can use "go out on a limb" in social and professional settings. Using the phrase describes doing something risky for a big reward for a group. You would use this phrase in a conversation where you're trying to impress the risk to other people party to the situation.

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