40

Pretty straightforward but Google is failing me.

What is the single word for removing a limb, specifically an arm?

It can’t be disarmed, as that is used when someone has their weapons taken.

I know there is decapitate for removing a head, even defenestrate for throwing out a window (which I initially thought), but is there a word for chopping of an arm? Or a hand? Or a finger?

As requested used in a sentence:

In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Christopher Lee’s character Count Dooku was decapitated, but not before he was _something_.

  • 22
    I suggest "debrachiate". – augurar Dec 28 '15 at 2:00
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    "'Tis but a scratch!" youtube.com/watch?v=zKhEw7nD9C4 – IQAndreas Dec 28 '15 at 9:54
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    "his arm was dismembered" sounds like his arm had extraneous limbs which were cut off. Amputated sounds much better. @Mari-LouA – 11684 Dec 28 '15 at 11:30
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    Disarmed! ...I'll let myself out. – Davor Dec 28 '15 at 11:39
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    Elimbinate, obviously. – jwodder Dec 28 '15 at 14:57

10 Answers 10

41

I think the word you're looking for is amputate. A remote possibility is delimb, but it's apparently used mostly to describe the removal of branches (tree limbs).

A few more thoughts...

Here's Merriam-Webster's definitions of amputate and dismember.

As you can see, the former definition does stress the medical connection, though amputate can be used in other contexts as well. More interesting is the definition of dismember, which seems to suggest the amputation or severing of multiple limbs. In fact, that's what I intuitively think of when I hear the word dismember, which generally describes extraordinary violence.

In that spirit, dismember might not be the best choice for the OP, who asked,

What is the single word for removing a limb, specifically an arm?

In summary, I think either amputate or sever would work better. Sever would be the obvious choice if you want to escape the medical connotation. My feelings won't be hurt if you want to choose a new correct answer. ;)

  • 2
    Dismember isn't limited to battlefield use. And it does have one additional but thankfully rarer meaning on top of the one regarding the removal of limbs: 1697 Potter Antiq. Greece ɪɪ. iii. (1715) 204 ― “Some were so rigid Observers of the rules of chastity that··they dismember’d themselves.” – tchrist Dec 28 '15 at 1:31
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    "Amputate" is applied to the part being amputated, while "behead" is applied to the person whose head it is, so it's not really analogous. – augurar Dec 28 '15 at 1:51
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    Amputate typically refers to a surgical process, usually done for necessity for the person's own benefit (e.g. survival). The violent equivalent (i.e. has connotations more like decapitate) is dismember. tchrist's answer is better because it has far more similar connotations to decapitate than amputate does. – Jimbo Jonny Dec 28 '15 at 6:14
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    The only thing about amputate is it has very stong medical connotations, to my ears, at least. I agree with other comments that dismember without clarification sounds like all arms and legs being removed. I feel like context will determine the best word for this. For instance, in a combat description, sever seems best, as in "Arthur struck with his sword, decapitating/severing the arm of the black knight". – Todd Wilcox Dec 28 '15 at 16:11
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    Oops, I must have misread belimb as delimb. In fact, I've never heard of the word belimb before. It sounds really awkward to me; delimb is much more intuitive. – David Blomstrom Dec 28 '15 at 17:15
87

tl;dr: Use either of these, which pair like with like:

  1. In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Christopher Lee’s character Count Dooku was decapitated, but not before he was dismembered.

  2. In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Christopher Lee’s character Count Dooku was beheaded, but not before he was belimbed.

Either is perfectly understandable in that context.

Deviant Art portrayal of the famously dismembered Black Night from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Image credit Cajun Pro @ Deviant Art


Decapitate, Dismember

You might try to get away with disarm if you were just joking around, but the formal term is dismember, which per the OED means:

  1. trans. To deprive of limbs or members; to cut off the limbs or members of; to tear or divide limb from limb. (In quot. 1697, to castrate.)

    • 1697 Potter Antiq. Greece ɪɪ. iii. (1715) 204 ― Some were so rigid Observers of the rules of chastity that··they dismember’d themselves.
    • 1855 Macaulay Hist. Eng. IV. 286 ― To be torn with redhot pincers, smeared with melted lead, and dismembered by four horses.

    b. transf.

    • 1830 J. G. Strutt Sylva Brit. 93 ― Its branches are so tough as to withstand the fury of gales that would dismember most other trees.

    c. To carve: said in reference to herons and some other birds. Obs.

    • 1804 Farley Lond. Art Cookery (ed. 10) 293 ― To dismember a Hern. Cut off the legs, lace the breast down the sides.
  2. fig. To divide into parts or sections, so as to destroy integrity; to cut up, cut to pieces, mangle, mutilate: in recent use chiefly, To divide and partition (a country or empire)

  3. To cut off, sever from the body (a limb or member).

    • 1675 Traherne Chr. Ethics xx. 319 ― A hand, or foot dismembred from the body.

If you are attempting parallelism of form, then dismember matches decapitate in that both are multi-syllable words derived from Latin. The OED etymology entry for dismember says:

Etymology: a. OFr. desmembre‑r (11th c. in Hatz.-Darm.), mod.Fr. démembrer = Pr., Sp., and Ital. desmembrar, Ital. di)smembrare, med.L. dismembrāre and dēmembrāre, f. dis- 4, de- 6 + membrum limb.

So a member means any limb. In the 1697 citation provided above, it means the male member.

The gruesome Wikipedia entry on dismemberment starts off with the following text:

Dismemberment is the act of cutting, tearing, pulling, wrenching, or otherwise removing the limbs of a living thing. It has been practised upon human beings as a form of capital punishment, can occur as a result of a traumatic accident, or in connection with murder, suicide, or cannibalism. As opposed to surgical amputation of the limbs, dismemberment is often fatal to all but the simplest of creatures.

That leads to a sentence like this:

  • In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Christopher Lee’s character Count Dooku was decapitated, but not before he was dismembered.

Behead, Belimb

However, if you are looking for a word to pair with behead, then dismember is arguably too ornate. As discussed in Why is it “behead” and not “dehead”?, we didn’t need a Latinate de- there because we were using the Germanic prefix be- in the ancient way that means to bereave someone of something. In the OED entry for be-, they mention belimb:

An ancient application, no longer in living use, was to express the sense of ‘bereave of,’ as in behead, belimb, etc.”

Wiktionary gives belimb the following sense:

(transitive, obsolete) To cut off a limb or limbs; dismember; mutilate; disfigure.

Like the verb beland meaning to deprive someone of their lands (destierro in Spanish), the verb belimb for depriving someone of a limb is no longer used much in current English. However, given the appropriate context and setup, this old wold could be easily dusted off and use.

The verb belimb was used in Middle English, where like all words at that time it enjoyed a wealth of spelling variants. The entry in the University of Michigan’s Middle English Dictionary gives this sense for belimb:

To sever limb from limb; esp., to mutilate or maim (an enemy, an offender) by cutting or tearing off a part of his body; refl. mutilate oneself.

Belimb has various Middle English citations, including one from Robert of Gloucester’s Chronicle, where King Knut “out of wrath had hostages belimbed”:

þeruore þe kẏng Knout wẏþ hem was so wod wroþ,
And vor wraþþe let bẏlẏme her ostages þat were.

When you place it in the context of beheaded, belimbed is completely understandable.

  • In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Christopher Lee’s character Count Dooku was beheaded, but not before he was belimbed.

If you aren’t trying for literary parallelism, perhaps this does not matter so much.


Brachiotomy

Another rather ugly term with a related medical sense is brachiotomy, which the Free Dictionary gives as:

  1. Amputation of an arm to effect vaginal delivery, a procedure with no legally viable indications in modern obstetrical practice.
  2. Forequarter amputation.

Even though sense 2 is close, its overtone of medicate amputation and its fancy classical roots make it unsuitable for most normal discourse.


Severed

If you wanted to use the same verb for both bodily separations, you could do worse than choose the pedestrian sever, perhaps like this:

  • In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Christopher Lee’s character Count Dooku arm was severed from his body right before his head was.
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    Head is to beheading as arm is to disarming? Or is it beärming? – Peter Shor Dec 28 '15 at 1:43
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    Lol at "disarm". Reminds me of "What did the train do to the big-bottomed lady when she didn't quite make it across the tracks in time? … Disaster." – kojiro Dec 28 '15 at 2:52
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    If you said Count Dooku "was dismembered" it strongly implies that all his arms and legs were removed, not just one hand. While this may be technically correct in some sense, IMHO it does not convey the intended meaning. – Lynn Dec 28 '15 at 5:10
  • 1
    The correct answer is "dismembered." To answer the question as asked, it is the body which is decapitated, and it is also the body which is dismembered. Heads and arms are both severed. – user153040 Dec 28 '15 at 14:50
  • It's not a flesh wound, it's a scratch extracted from "Holly Graal" (a movie of the Monty Python). Video extract. Please add that to your answer :(. – Graffito Dec 29 '15 at 0:31
28

I agree dismembered would work best in the context of the original question, but my first thought in the vein of head/decapitated was...

Sever, as in a severed limb.

Sever
To separate (a part) from the whole, as by cutting or the like; to divide into parts, especially forcibly; cleave.

Source: Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sever

  • 4
    Count Dooku was decapitated, but not before his hand was severed. <THIS – Mazura Dec 28 '15 at 9:46
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    @Mazura +1 for the contemporary reference. – Mindwin Dec 28 '15 at 15:05
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    I just upvoted sever, which appears to be a better choice than dismember in this particular case (focusing on a single limb) after all. – David Blomstrom Dec 28 '15 at 17:25
8

Try dismember.

It means to cut one or more limbs off a person or animal, for example when butchering a carcass. In most applications, one does not cut off a single limb without cutting off them all, so this word presents some challenges.

It is not an exact match for what you want. Unless otherwise specified, "Richard was dismembered by the cheeky axeman" would most likely be taken to mean the axeman cut off ALL Richard's limbs, and maybe his head as well, since member is a rather general term for any bodily protruberence -- including the ribald ones. However if you first said explicitly that only Richard's left arm was severed, then you could refer back to that event using the word "dismember" with no confusion.

Another drawback of using this word unqualified, is that it can also be a metaphor for disfigure. Clearly a dismembered human is disfigured, but a human may be disfigured without exactly being dismembered.

The word amputate usually sees use in a medical context. Unqualified, "Richard's limb was amputated" means that it was in his best interest that the limb be removed -- whether he agreed at the time or not. For example the limb had been destroyed by fire and needed to be removed before it caused blood poisoning, or the limb was broken beyond repair, and would only cause him pain and discomfort if it remained attached.

While technically (whatever that means), an amputation may only be performed on a limb, your reader may not know this. Removing the appendix is usually called an apendectomy, but most people would probably see no error with "They amputated her appendix".

  • 8
    This answer has already been given. – tchrist Dec 28 '15 at 1:28
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    I had to downvote this answer because the word suggested is identical to tchrist's. If you could expand on your answer, and explain why the OP should prefer this solution, instead of amputate I'll reverse my downvote. – Mari-Lou A Dec 28 '15 at 13:50
  • Reversed downvote, good edit! – Mari-Lou A Dec 28 '15 at 18:47
  • I'm not sure if "most people would probably see no error" with referring to an appendectomy as an amputation, mostly because I've never heard anyone describe an appendectomy as an amputation. Is that in remotely comon use? – David Richerby Dec 29 '15 at 13:09
  • The word appendectomy itself is not in common use, not because the word is not understood, but because there is rarely context to use it. Perhaps it was not the best choice of organ, since there is a more specialised name for the operation. Consider instead a lung-removal operation. Do you think anyone would object to "Doctors had to amputate her left lung."? – Daron Dec 29 '15 at 13:28
7

It is funny. The more precise you try to be with a single word, the less precise the meaning becomes. Phrases can do the job more adequately.

His right arm was severed.

  • Dismembered is one word but leaves much ambiguity.
  • Amputation implies a very different context.

I do not think a single word has been needed in our language to define the severing of one particular limb of the four options. Whereas we only have one head and its removal tends to be a significant and discrete act worthy of its own definitive verb. You could say the need for further description has been elimbinated!

  • 1
    Sometimes two or three words are better than one. – Mari-Lou A Dec 28 '15 at 13:41
  • What is the ambiguity that severed and dismembered leave? What context does amputation imply? What is your suggestion for a phrase? Unless you include these points, your post doesn't answer the question and it is just a comment. Please take the tour and visit our help center to see additional guidance. – user140086 Dec 28 '15 at 14:16
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    This post answers the question just fine, the suggested phrase is: "his arm was severed", we normally associate "amputation" with operations, but a hand can be amputated by accident or as a form of punishment. Doctors may amputate a foot, the lower leg, or the entire leg. A child patient may have all their fingers or their limbs amputated because of meningitis. We don't say The victim was amputated. because that is ambiguous. – Mari-Lou A Dec 28 '15 at 14:27
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    I think this is the correct answer although there are better worded answers. A single word simply doesn't exist. It could be "debrachiate" when you follow the same formation of "decapitate" but it seems like "debrachiate" was never coined. OP didn't ask a single verb for cutting off limbs, OP asked for cutting off an arm. All the answers are about cutting off limbs. – ermanen Dec 28 '15 at 17:13
4

I'd suggest, lop (off)

: to sever (parts) from a tree, body, etc., esp. with swift strokes Collins English Dictionary

: a. to cut off (a limb or part) from a person, animal, etc.

: b. Archaic. to cut off the head or limbs of (a person). Random House

In Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Christopher Lee’s character Count Dooku was beheaded (as an execution) right after getting both arms (actually his hands) lopped off.

3

Avulse is the word commonly used for the loss of a limb - usually by force. To separate, cut, or tear off by avulsion. [Latin avellere, avuls-, to tear off : a-, ab-, away; + vellere, to pull.]

2

There is no word that can describe what you are asking. That is because a human only has one head. Therefore they can be "beheaded". An arm (or leg) would be ambiguous and would beg the question of which limb was removed. So, logically, there is no single word that pertains to a person having some limb removed. It requires specification.

2

"debraced" would be the literal equivalent of "decapitated": compare "embrace" for an arm-related word that travelled from latin "bracchium" via old French "brace" (modern "brasse") into English. Unfortunately, "debrace" never actually made that journey into the English language. A more English word invention would be "de-armed" which is however too close to "disarmed" to avoid confusion. So even with invented words I cannot think of something that the average listener would likely interpret correctly.

-1

The simple fact is, there is no such word.

You can say "the stroke beheaded him", but to say "the stroke _ _ _ him", you have to spell it out:

"The stroke sliced off his left arm". (Or, "cut off..." "completely removed..." "chopped off" et cetera.)

There simply is no such word: that's the answer.

(The often suggested dismember is utterly wrong. Dismember is a word like "destroy" or "disassemble". It is not a word like "remove" or "pull out". It means "to reduce to component sections, by separating all or most of the limbs and/or other major sections from something." It does not mean that, one one particular swing chopped-off one particular arm.)

I believe the very best analog is "chopped off".

The simple fact is if you were describing a gruesome sword fight and you meant "he chopped-off his left arm" that is precisely what you would say.

You can definitely use "amputate" but as a medical professional pointed out above, it's rather technical, obscure usage.

protected by choster Dec 30 '15 at 0:19

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