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How The Popular Phrase Of Pulling Someone’s Leg Came From Violence And Crime

The origins of a well-known humorous saying actually had a dark evolution

Andrew Martin
2 min readFeb 15, 2024

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We have all sorts of sayings and phrases that become part of the lexicon, even if their origins are not readily known. Usually these are funny and would be hard for someone who was not part of the culture to understand their meaning unless somebody explained it to them. One very popular example is to pull someone’s leg, usually referencing a joke or telling someone something non-factual in an attempt at humor. Despite its light-hearted conotation today, it actually has dark origins of violence and crime going back hundreds of years.

When you tell someone you’re pulling their leg, it’s generally going to be followed by some light-hearted laughter after the circumstances of the joke are explained. However, the positive use of that phrase has definitely evolved over the years. Tim Bowen of One Stop English explains that the saying had nothing to do with funny business when it first started being used in 18th and 19th century London.

A profitable criminal enterprise in England used to be knocking people over and robbing them on the street. This was generally perpetuated by two robbers at a time, where one would trip the victim (pull him by the…

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Andrew Martin

Dabbler in history, investing & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about history, diversity, culture, sports, investing and crypto.