Pulling Your Leg (Origin)

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Pulling Your Leg"?

The term "pulling your leg" means tricking someone as a joke.

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Pulling Your Leg (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • He's pulling your leg. He's always been a joker.
  • My dad told me I was adopted, but he was pulling my leg.
  • You're pulling my leg again. Now, I won't believe anything you say.
This idiom most commonly features in the sentence "I am just pulling your leg," which informs the victim of a hurtful or misleading statement or act that it was intended only as a joke.

This term originates from Victorian London in mid-19th century. Back then, thieves, particularly pick-pockets, would pull at their victims' legs to disorientate them momentarily, thereby allowing an opportunity to rob them.

Whilst this is offered as a plausible explanation, the origin of "pulling your leg" remains unknown. It is interesting to note that it does not start to feature in common literature until the 1880s (evidence), which might offer a clue to its true origin.

Competing Theory

This idiom originates from London in the late-18th century. Specifically, it comes from Tyburn, the place where public hangings were carried out. "Pulling someone's leg" refers to the practice of mercifully ending a hanging quickly by pulling on the person's legs.

Detractors of this theory quite rightfully highlight that it has nothing to do with tricking someone or joking. It is likely cited as an explanation for "pulling someone's leg" because it is an interesting anecdote related to leg pulling.

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.