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

You are wondering about the meaning of the phrase be up in arms, maybe you heard it in a TV show, movie or theater play. Although this idiom is not used very often, it enriches your capacity of expression and strengthens communication. In which case is the expression be up in arms used and what is its meaning?

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

From Shakespeare to Social Media: The Evolution of English Idioms

English idioms have been around for centuries, with many originating from sources like literature, mythology, and everyday life. Shakespeare, for example, coined many phrases that are still used today, such as "break the ice" and "heart of gold." Over time, new idioms have emerged, with social media and popular culture providing rich sources of inspiration. For instance, the phrase "throwing shade" came into use in the 1990s thanks to ball culture, but has since been popularized by social media.


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