On one’s last legs

On one’s last legs is an idiom that is over 400 years old. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom on one’s last legs, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

On one’s last legs means something is ending; it may mean that a person is near death or is so exhausted than he cannot continue. A thing may be described as being on its last legs when it will no longer function or is near collapse. The idea is that the strength in one’s legs is about to give out; there is no more strength left. The expression on one’s last legs was used as early as 1599 in the play, The Old Law.


Clearly, Freeman is on his last legs as a Bronco but the question is, does he make it through the season or will he be a camp casualty? (Sports Illustrated)

“By the time I get to a weekend, I’m finished, I’m on my last legs.” (The Jewish Chronicle

The Caribbean remains a stronghold for BlackBerry and any suggestion that the Canadian telecommunication and wireless equipment company is on its last legs is false. (Nation News Barbados)

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