By in Animals

Phrase Origins: A Shot in the Arm

ABSTRACT: A shot in the arm doesn't sound pleasant, but the meaning of the phrase seems pleasant!


I don't like needles, so it is mystery to me why anybody would say something is a shot in the arm. However, the phrase, "a shot in the arm," exists. If you ask me, it would be something that is painful, or perhaps something that is painful and quick if referring to a small shot.

However, the phrase, "a shot in the arm," means "a stimulus." I can see how vaccinations are a stimulus to health. The vaccinations keep us from getting sick. That's a good thing.

It is obvious that "shot" is a term meaning "injection." That usage of the phrase can be found in The San Francisco Chronicle Supplement in 1904. The quote is, "I varied hardly a minute each day in the time of taking my injection. My first shot was when I awoke in the morning."

While vaccinations can be a stimulus to our health, it is likely that the phrase, "a shot in the arm," referring to a stimulus related to people who did drugs as they claimed the drugs stimulated them. It seems that the first figurative use of the phrase, "a shot in the arm," was in the Maine newspaper, The Lewiston Evening Journal . It said, "The vets can give politics a shot in the arm and the political leaders realize it." This was written in January 1916.

The phrase, "a shot in the arm," can now be used to refer to anything that is a stimulus. It can be said that stores "hope for a shot in the arm," which means they want more shoppers or at least people to buy more so it gives the stores a stimulus.

The phrase can be used to mean that certain tools give an activity a stimulus. Farmers never used to have tractors, so when they were introduced, it could be said that tractors gave farming a shot in the arm. Of course, tractors were introduced before the phrase "a shot in the arm," so they are not going to be found together at the time of the introduction of tractors. However, they can be found together as I have linked them here to a current phrase and a past event.


Martin, G. (n.d.). A shot in the arm. The meanings and origins of sayings and phrases . Retrieved January 3, 2011, from

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MegL wrote on August 22, 2014, 1:52 PM

While I knew the meaning of "A shot in the arm", I never thought of it in this way before. I think I might just stop using that phrase now. Interesting.

bridgetidelaney wrote on August 22, 2014, 8:29 PM

I've never really used the phrase, but I don't see a reason to stop using it.

Tuffy06 wrote on August 25, 2014, 8:42 PM

Oh, I thought you were shot by a gun. I don't like shots but I still do it because it is beneficial for my health.

PriscillaKing wrote on January 26, 2015, 6:13 PM

An insulin or B-12 shot?

LeaPea2417 wrote on December 27, 2015, 11:22 PM

It is amazing how many different phrases like that exist in the English language. Do , come back here to write more.