What Does “Twist Someone’s Arm” Mean? How To Use It

what does twist someones arm mean

When we hear this phrase, ‘twist someone’s arm,’ far from a physical action, this idiom of English is all about exerting peer pressure on each other. Read on to learn the meaning of this phrase and how it can be best used.

‘Twisting someone’s arm’ is applying social pressure or peer pressure in order to gain their behavioral compliance. A very powerful social dynamic that shapes our lives from our formative years until our old age. We use this phrase when we want someone to do something out of the norm for them.

Use Of The Idiom, ‘twisting Someone’s Arm.’


In its best form, this idiom assists in the formation of our life’s path, but it can also be used to move us to do something that is uncharacteristic or even problematic. In its worst form, ‘twisting someone’s arm,’ or trying to get someone to do something they might not normally do, can alter the course of a person’s development and lead them in different, and at times unwanted directions in adulthood.

By ‘twisting someone’s arm,’ we are putting social or peer pressure on someone that requires them to do something or say something out of the norm for them. One could imagine the broad range of implications of such social pressure, from opportunities for new and exciting experiences and developmentally important moments to assist us in maturation to the inducement of negative behaviors that could cause problems in relationships, work, and our health. In this light, it becomes important in our lives to look for supportive and uplifting peer groups with which we can grow in positive ways. People who will encourage or ‘twist our arm’ in a manner to challenge us to higher levels of being.

Social pressure is an integral part of being a social group. As humans, we seek companionship and comradery in experiencing life, both receiving and giving peer pressure to move forward. Remember then your responsibility to ‘twist arms’ for the betterment of those in your life; because what you put out will certainly come back to you.

Origins Of The Idiom, ‘Twisting Someone’s Arm’

The origin of this idiom is a relatively recent one. At the beginning of the nineteen hundreds, the phrase was first used as an expression to get something done. If an arm had to be twisted to get something done, then they would twist it!

In this era, the development of factories for mass production of products was well underway, and the labor market was brisk for those who were willing to work long, hard hours of work for little money. With the increased need for high production, the shift bosses began using this idiom to motivate the workers to higher levels of productivity. Of course, working harder and longer hours was not what the workers wanted, but the coercive nature of the idiom made it difficult for them to refuse. To persuade the workers to produce more, this phrase was used as a metaphor for,’ work harder, or lose your job.’

Historical Changes In The Phrase, ‘twisting Someone’s Arm’


While the use of this phrase had its inception in the expanding labor market of the last century, in more modern times, this idiom has taken on both more serious life implications as well as light-hearted meanings in relationships with friends and loved ones by exerting peer or social pressure.

The use of social or peer pressure is pervasive and a characteristic part of relationships with others. Dealing with peer pressure is something we struggle with from a very young age.

Whether it’s joining a new club or team or trying a cigarette for the first time, it is usually a process of being coerced into doing something we don’t want to do or have never considered doing. Peer pressure is an innate part of our socialization. It is fundamentally a way for us to band together in seeking out new experiences and behaviors.

Some peer pressure from others can be of great benefit. For example, if your friends are playing soccer, and you don’t want to, they may try to twist your arm into playing. If you then choose to participate and enjoy playing with them, the peer pressure exerted may be of a grand benefit to your quality of life. Something you hadn’t thought to do, turns out to be another form of enjoyment, contributing to your friendship with your friends while giving a boost to your health in the process.

Unfortunately, the contrary can also be the case. If the peer group you associate with begins arm twisting you to have you begin to use illegal drugs or commit antisocial acts, one’s life can take a significant turn for the worst. For example, many older people with long-term addiction problems, when recounting their history, often state that it all began as an innocent flirtation with drugs within their peer group. Even though their families had told them not to engage in the behavior, the peer pressure of ‘twisting their arm’ was so severe that they ultimately gave into the pressure, diverting them to a life of problems and pain.

Example Sentences Using “Twisting Someone’s Arm”

  1. They kept twisting my arm about this trip, and I eventually caved.
  2. She was so strong, despite all the arm twisting, she didn’t tell them where the key was hidden.
  3. I was never big on doing what I was told, so whenever anyone tried twisting my arm, they received the exact opposite outcome of what they expected.
  4. Her boss was keen on arm twisting. He always had his way.
  5. I was glad you twisted my arm into coming tonight. I had a very good time.


Enjoyable “Arm Twisting”

There are times when arm twisting within your peer group can be playful and fun. Life is a challenge for us on a daily basis to make our way successfully for ourselves and those we love and care for. In our modern society, there is a significant demand on us to produce at a level that would not only have us obtain resources sufficient to look after ourselves and our loved ones but even more to live at a higher level of means. This is often referred to by using the idiom, ‘the search for the American dream.’ Simply put, the harder we work, the wealthier we become. While most people now believe that this dream is elusive, as a culture, we continue to work in this manner.

Working all hours of the day, while possible, is largely undesirable. People who work long hours often comment that they feel that ‘life is passing them by with little or no time to do much else but work. It sometimes takes the pressure of friends and family to help break old patterns of behavior and try something new. For example, left on our own, we may not want to go to the music concert with our friends and family in favor of completing our work. This is where ‘arm twisting’ can be a fun-loving and uplifting endeavor. For example, if you have been asked to go to dinner and have refused on principle of work, it may become the responsibility of your peer group to apply pressure to have you comply.” If you don’t come to dinner, I won’t cook for us tomorrow! In a very playful way, some uncomfortable consequences have been introduced for tomorrow’s dinner, making it difficult to turn down the trip to the restaurant. The resulting break for you in your usual routine can have vast therapeutic effects.

In addition, it can be very positive for your peer group relationships as well, confirming your allegiance and caring for them. In all cases, this type of positive arm twisting can be a way of freeing people from the enslavement of their role as caregiver or family provider by giving them an excuse for an alternate behavior.


Given the nature of humanity as social creatures, often moving together through life’s challenges, it is easy for us to understand the importance of the need for acceptance by those around us. All relationships require a certain amount of give and take in order for us to feel acceptance and caring in our peer group. Most of the time, those around us come to us with good intentions, wanting us to go with them for activities or simply spend time with them. Sometimes they come to us in a manner to support higher production in work or expression of feelings in a more appropriate manner.

But unfortunately, there are those in our lives that do not have our best interests at heart. These people come to us with their own agenda, which is often problematic for all those involved. It is this type of peer influence that can literally derail our lives and take us down a path that we may not be able to return to.

Each of the aforementioned groups will characteristically try to use peer influence to exert pressure, offering unfavorable consequences to us if we don’t comply and go along with them. It is this pressure to comply, or ‘twisting someone’s arm,’ that must be carefully weighed. We need to look at what the motive might be behind the pressure. If the motive is only for the support of others’ agenda, there could be problems for you in accepting. One needs to look at the consequences being given. If the consequences of involvement take you to a place of lesser health, security, or position, acceptance may be ill-advised.

Ultimately, we need to learn to be comfortable saying no when we need to. When we are able to decline and later realize that life continues on, the next time is easier.

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By Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.