Shake a Leg – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone to hurry up? If so, you could ask them to “shake a leg.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The meaning of the expression “shake a leg” is to hurry up because you’re late. If someone asks you to shake a leg, they are telling you to make haste with your activity. The saying applies to social and professional situations.

The original meaning of the expression was a term for dancing. While this version is still in use today, it’s more common as a statement to tell someone to hurry up. You can use it with your colleagues, friends, partners, and kids to ask them to make haste with what they are doing.

Example Usage

“C’mon, kids, the bus is almost here. Finish your breakfast and grab your bag, or you’ll miss it, and I’ll have to drive you again. I don’t have time for that this morning, so shake a leg.”

“Gary, I asked you for that report yesterday already. Shake a leg with it, will you? I need it today.”

“Hurry up, Clive, we’re going to miss the train if you don’t get moving. Shake a leg, will you.”

“If those girls don’t shake a leg and finish getting ready, we’re going to miss the reservation.”

“Shake a leg over there, don’t get too far away from the group, or you’ll end up getting lost in the forest.”

Origin

There are several variations of “shake a leg,” and many of them relate to dance terms. During the 18th and 19th centuries, “shaker a foot” and “shake your heels” were common variations of the saying.

However, these terms disappeared over the centuries, and now the only one that remains is “shake a leg.” However, it rarely has a use for dancing anymore, and most people use it as a way to tell people to hurry up.

There are several appearances of the expression in publications throughout the 1800s. The Dubuque Democratic Herald published an advert for a local dance in 1863, which reads as follows.

“Nearly every man in town able to shake a leg has purchased a ticket.”

The dance variations of the saying in modern language include expressions like “Shake, rattle, and roll” or “shake your booty.”

Today, the saying means “hurry up,” and the earliest use of the expression in print comes from New York Magazine in 1904, where it appears as follows.

“Shake a leg … meaning to ‘hurry up.'”

The saying has an American origin, and the British version of the expression is “get a legger on.”

Phrases Similar to Shake a Leg

  • Chop chop.
  • Hurry up.
  • Double-time.

Phrases Opposite to Shake a Leg

  • Take your time.
  • No rush.
  • Whenever you’re ready.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Shake a leg.

Ways People May Say Shake a Leg Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with shaking your leg. It’s a horseracing term adapted to modern language describing picking up speed in a task. Using the phrase as a way to tell people to shake their legs is technically correct but not the intent of the expression. Some people may also use “shake your legs,” which is a less common variation of the saying.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Shake a Leg

You can use “shake a leg” in social and professional settings where you’re asking people to hurry up. For instance, you could use it at home when telling your kids to hurry up or they’ll be late for the bus. Or you could use it at work when telling colleagues or employees to complete a task with haste.

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