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at arm's length

At or occupying a distance, either physical or figurative, away from oneself that affords a level of safety or security or that excludes intimacy. I'm involved in all the board meetings, but I prefer to stay at arm's length if the issues become too contentious. John always keeps his friends at arm's length, so that no one gets close enough to hurt his feelings.
See also: length

arm's length

A distance intentionally kept from something or between something, equal (literally or figuratively) to an arm's span. Typically used in the phrase "keep at an arm's length." Nancy has been keeping me at an arm's length ever since she found out I was gossiping about her. You're filthy from that game, please stay an arm's length away from me! You can watch me cook, but stay at arm's length in case any hot oil spurts out of the pan.
See also: length

give (someone) the length of (one's) tongue

To voice one's opinion, often in an aggressive or abusive way. I thought Paul was unhappy, but I did not expect him to lash out and give me the length of his tongue like that. I can't stand being around my mom when she starts giving us the length of her tongue.
See also: give, length, of, tongue

go to any length(s)

To do anything necessary to accomplish or attain something. I will go to any length to get an A in this class, professor—I'll clean your office, wash your car, anything! Go to any lengths you need to, just get me a reservation for this Saturday night!
See also: any

*at great length

for a long period of time. (*Typically: explain ~; question someone ~; speak ~.) The lawyer questioned the witness at great length.
See also: great, length

at length

 
1. after some time; finally. At length, the roses bloomed, and the tomatoes ripened. And at length, the wizard spoke.
2. and at some length for quite a long time. He spoke to us about the problem at some length. He described the history of his village at length.
See also: length

go to any length

Fig. to do whatever is necessary. (See also go to great lengths (to do something).) I'll go to any length to secure this contract. I want to get a college degree, but I won't go to any length to get one.
See also: any, length

go to great lengths (to do something)

 and go to any lengths (to do something)
to work very hard to accomplish something; to expend great efforts in trying to do something. I went to great lengths to explain to him that he was not in any trouble.
See also: great, length

keep at arm's length from someone or something

 and keep someone or something at arm's length
Fig. to retain a degree of physical or social remoteness from someone or something. I try to keep at arm's length from Larry, since our disagreement. I keep Tom at arm's length because we don't get along.
See also: keep, length

keep somebody/something at arm's length

also hold somebody/something at arm's length
to avoid becoming connected with someone or something We proposed a tax break for companies that treat their workers well, but lawmakers are keeping the idea at arm's length for now. She doesn't talk much about it because she needs to hold these painful experiences at arm's length.
Related vocabulary: keep your distance (from somebody/something)
Etymology: from the literal meaning of at arm's length ( away from you by a distance equal to the length of your arm)
See also: keep, length

at length

1. for a long time We have discussed at length the events that led to his suspension.
2. after a period of time At length, Nick realized that she was listening to the music more than she was listening to him.
See also: length

go to great lengths to do something

to try very hard to achieve a result This champion marathon runner is going to great lengths to help needy children. Both sides have gone to great lengths to emphasize areas of similarity in their proposals.
Related vocabulary: take (great) pains to do something
See also: great, length

hold/keep somebody at arm's length

to not allow someone to become too friendly with you I always had the feeling she was keeping me at arm's length.
See also: hold, length

go to great lengths to do something

to try very hard to achieve something I went to great lengths to explain the situation to him but he still didn't seem to understand.
See also: great, length

at arm's length

At a distance, avoiding intimacy or familiarity, as in Bill hated seeing his colleagues outside the office, preferring to keep all of them at arm's length , or She was friendly only when he was safely at arm's length. Now often used with the verb keep, this term for distancing oneself from a person, organization, or issue originated as at arm's end but developed its current form by the mid-1600s.
See also: length

at length

1. In full, extensively. For example, The preacher went on at length about sin, or I have read at length about these cameras. [c. 1500]
2. After a long time, finally, as in At length the procession ended. [Early 1500s] Also see in the long run.
See also: length

go to any length

Also, go to great lengths. Take a great deal of trouble for something, go to extremes. For example, He'll go to great lengths to make a perfect chocolate cake, or, as Benjamin Disraeli put it in Coningsby (1844): "He would go ... [to] any lengths for his party."
See also: any, length

at arm's length

At such a distance that physical or social contact is discouraged: kept the newcomer at arm's length at first.
See also: length

at length

1. After some time; eventually: At length we arrived at our destination.
2. For a considerable time; fully: spoke at length about the court ruling.
See also: length
References in classic literature ?
There have been used in this cage," continued the other, "two hundred and twenty great bolts of iron, of nine feet, and of eight, the rest of medium length, with the rowels, caps and counterbands appertaining to the said bolts; weighing, the said iron in all, three thousand, seven hundred and thirty-five pounds; beside eight great squares of iron, serving to attach the said cage in place with clamps and nails weighing in all two hundred and eighteen pounds, not reckoning the iron of the trellises for the windows of the chamber wherein the cage hath been placed, the bars of iron for the door of the cage and other things.
Upon which he easily persuaded his fair companion to strike with him into a path which seemed to lead directly through the wood, and which at length brought them both to the bottom of Mazard Hill.
His only comfort had been in visits from the Good Queen, who had at length put him in the way of meeting his brother.
He wrote to us to desire that we would wait for him at Diou, in order to embark there for the Red Sea; but being informed by us that no opportunities of going thither were to be expected at Diou, it was at length determined that we should meet at Bazaim; it was no easy matter for me to find means of going to Bazaim.
We also speak of length and height, or breadth and thickness, thus denoting Two Dimensions by four names.
In these simultaneous observations they thought themselves justified in estimating the minimum length of the mammal at more than three hundred and fifty feet, as the Shannon and Helvetia were of smaller dimensions than it, though they measured three hundred feet over all.
At length after a journey of nearly an hour, the carriage stopped before an iron gate, which closed an avenue leading to a castle severe in form, massive, and isolated.
At length the eyes of Betts fell on me, who was still in the hand of Mademoiselle Hennequin, and had several times been applied to her eyes unheeded.
In length this picturesque building was perhaps twelve yards, while in breadth it could not have exceeded as many feet.
The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees - degrees nearly imperceptible, and which for a long time my Reason struggled to reject as fanciful - it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline.
I WAS sick -- sick unto death with that long agony; and when they at length unbound me, and I was permitted to sit, I felt that my senses were leaving me.
It was now perfectly dark, not a single star was there to direct my steps, and I know not what might have befallen me had I not at length discerned thro' the solemn Gloom that surrounded me a distant light, which as I approached it, I discovered to be the chearfull Blaze of your fire.
For two days the wind was contrary, and the vessel was detained in their neighborhood; at length a favorable breeze sprang up, and in a little while the rich groves, green hills, and snowy peaks of those happy islands one after another sank from sight, or melted into the blue distance, and the Tonquin ploughed her course towards the sterner regions of the Pacific.
The considerate kindness of the Angel mollified me in no little measure; and, aided by the water with which he diluted my Port more than once, I at length regained sufficient temper to listen to his very extraordinary discourse.
I gave up, at length, all care of things within the hotel, and became absorbed in contemplation of the scene without.