What does the idiom "be up in arms" mean?

Are you using the idiom be up in arms but not sure about its meaning? Using idioms, which are important elements of spoken and written language, in the right place strengthens your language skills. Examine the meaning of the be up in arms idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "be up in arms"


The phrase 'be up in arms' has different meanings, but is generally used to indicate a situation of hostility or aggression. It can be used to describe a group of people expressing their anger and frustration by taking some form of direct action, such as a protest or demonstration. The phrase can also be used to describe a person or group who is actively advocating for a particular cause or issue.


The phrase 'be up in arms' has been traced back to the 16th century and first appeared in the works of William Shakespeare. In his play 'Hamlet', the phrase is used to describe a situation of looming conflict, when one character says, "Let us go in together, and still your fingers on your lips, I pray. The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!" The phrase 'be up in arms' is derived from the use of weapons, either physical or verbal, to express one's anger or frustration.


The phrase 'be up in arms' is used to refer to a situation of hostility or aggression, either between individuals, groups of people, or nations. It can also refer to a person or group taking direct action, such as a protest or demonstration, to encourage change or make a statement.

Example Sentences

  • The residents of the town were up in arms over the proposed development.
  • The workers were up in arms about the new rules.
  • The protesters were up in arms about the lack of action on climate change.
  • The politician had the entire country up in arms with his controversial comments.

The meanings of the words in the "be up in arms" idiom

Beyond the Literal: Figurative Language in Idioms

Idioms often use figurative language to convey a message that is not meant to be taken literally. For instance, the idiom "bite the bullet" means to endure a painful or difficult situation without complaint, while "hold your horses" means to be patient and wait. Other idioms, like "kick the bucket" or "pop your clogs," use euphemisms to talk about death.


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