Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.

(from US Constitution - 5th and 14th Amendments)

The state ensures security of life, limb and property.

(from Wikipedia, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus)

What's the meaning of the word "limb" in the sentence above?

Definition of LIMB (source: Merriam-Webster)

1 a : one of the projecting paired appendages (as wings) of an animal body used especially for movement and grasping but sometimes modified into sensory or sexual organs b : a leg or arm of a human being

2 : a large primary branch of a tree

3 : an active member or agent

4 : extension, branch

5 : a mischievous child

The definitions I found in dictionary don't match or correspond well.

I guess there was somewhat a expansion of the meaning of limb, which is a body or physical freedom.

  • @Rathony I followed your advice. Thank you for your help! Dec 16, 2015 at 13:47
  • 1
    It's still arguably general reference: Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms has [a risk to] life and limb: [a risk to/of] continued existence or serious injury These skiers risk life and limb every day for the thrill of a super-fast downhill run. / The storms across the west are posing a threat to life and limb. Usage notes: used when talking about situations in which someone could die or be injured, as in the examples Dec 16, 2015 at 13:59
  • Making OP's 'What's the meaning of the word "limb" in the sentence above? ... The definitions I found in dictionary don't match or correspond well.' into 'Why do we use the word limb in this quasi-metonymic sense' (which would be valid if difficult to answer) takes some imagination. / CDAI needs to be cited as it answers the idiomatic sense request. Dec 18, 2015 at 20:57

2 Answers 2


A member of the human body. In the phrase "life and limb," the latter term appears to denote bodily integrity in general; but in the definition of "mayhem" it refers only to those members or parts of the body which may be useful to a man in fighting. 1 Bl. Comm. 130.

Law Dictionary: What is LIMB? definition of LIMB (Black's Law Dictionary)

Life or Limb The phrase within the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, commonly known as the Double Jeopardy Clause, that provides, "nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb," pursuant to which there can be no second prosecution after a first trial for the same offense. The words life or limb are not interpreted strictly; they apply to any criminal penalty.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

LIMBS. Those members of a man which may be useful to him in flight, and the unlawful deprivation of which by another amounts to a mayhem at common law. 1 Bl. Com. 130. If a man, se defendendo, commit homicide, he will be excused; and if he enter into an apparent contract, under a well-grounded apprehension of losing his life or limbs, he may afterwards avoid it. 1 Bl. 130. A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.

  • Typo? Is fighting in line 3 of your intro, the same concept as flight in line 1 of West's ? If I was in a fight. I would be very grateful for every limb useful for flight
    – Hugh
    Dec 15, 2015 at 14:50

It literally means limb. The state ensures you are not deprived of your life, your limbs, or your property without due process.

Or at least they are supposed to. Sometimes the state ends up doing the depriving before you even see a judge.

This makes more sense when you understand that getting convicted as a thief in some places can lead to having your hand cut off as punishment.

  • 2
    It almost never refers literally to arms and legs. In the vernacular "to risk life and limb" means to be put in jeopardy of physical harm, possibly unto death. In the US Constitution, it means any criminal penalty. It cannot mean or ever have meant "having your hand cut off as punishment," as that is forbidden by the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution.
    – deadrat
    Dec 15, 2015 at 14:25

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