To Chance Your Arm (Origin)

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What Is the Origin of the Saying "To Chance Your Arm"?

To chance your arm means to take a risk.

In 1492, two Irish families (the Butlers of Ormonde and the FitzGeralds of Kildare) were involved in a bitter feud over which family should hold the position of Lord Deputy. This tension manifested itself with violent fighting between the two families just outside the city walls. 

Realising the violence was getting out of control, the Butlers took refuge in the Chapter House of Saint Patrick's Cathedral. The FitzGeralds followed them into the Cathedral and asked them to come out and make peace. Afraid they would be slaughtered, the Butlers refused.

As a gesture of good faith, the head of the Kildare family, Gerald FitzGerald, ordered that a hole be cut in the door. He then thrust his arm through the door and offered his hand in peace to those on the other side.  Upon seeing that FitzGerald was willing to risk his arm by putting it through the door, the Butlers reasoned that he was serious about peace. They shook hands through the hole. The Butlers emerged from the Chapter House and the two families made peace.

Today, this door is known as the "Door of Reconciliation" and is on display St Patrick's Cathedral. This story also lives on in the expression to chance your arm.

A Competing Theory

In the military, rank was worn on the arm. To chance your arm meant to put your rank at risk by undertaking an action which could lead to promotion (if successful) but demotion (if a failure).

Would you like to offer another origin for the saying "To Chance Your Arm"? Please tell us using this form.

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