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Several sites (e.g. englishforums.com) state that there is no difference in meaning between "cross arms" and "fold arms". I was wondering whether this also means that both expressions are used equally frequently, or whether one prevails in everyday language.

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4 Answers 4

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Crossing your arms implies standing in a somewhat defiant posture. ("He stood with arms crossed...")

Folding your arms implies being in a relaxed state.

But these are only vague implications.

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  • Interesting! So if I wanted to make clear that arms are crossed/folded out of disapproval, then I would go for crossed instead of folded?
    – Flo
    Sep 5, 2016 at 13:15
  • @Flo - That would be how I'd do it. Though it does not quite "make it clear", so additional contextual clues would be advised, if you do not want to explicitly say "disapproval" or some such.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 5, 2016 at 16:32
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Folded suggests to me a more entwined state than crossed.

I have seldom heard of arms crossed, perhaps because when people fold their arms they do more than simply cross them.

However it is normal to sit with legs crossed, since folding them would involve considerable contortion.

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In both cases (folding or crossing) the arms are folded and are across the mid-section. That's folded. If you then cross your wrists and tuck them, I'd say the arms were crossed.

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Arms that are crossed simply lie across the chest or abdomen in the manner of an Egyptian mummy, while arms that are folded are intertwined, like a pretzel. Likewise if you fold your hands in your lap, your fingers intertwine. Compare that to how one may cross one's ankles, lying one across the other, but you cannot fold your ankles. Nor can you 'fold swords' though obviously you can 'cross swords'. When you sit 'cross-legged on the floor' your shins are parallel, something very different from having one's legs in what's called the 'lotus position', which I supposed could be referred to as 'fold-legged' but obviously isn't. As for the difference in significance of the two stances I would tend to think that crossed arms suggests an imposing or authoritative stance while folded arms are more self-protective; how subjective that reading is I couldn't say.

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  • Hi Michael, welcome to EL&U. This is an interesting answer, but is it simply your own personal interpretation, or is it based on research or an authoritative source? Nov 26, 2018 at 22:25

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