be on (one's) last legs(redirected from he was on his last legs)
be on (one's) last legs
To be near physical collapse or death, as due to exhaustion or disease. I knew I was on my last legs, so I was very relieved to see the marathon's finish line in the distance. Ed's on his last legs—you should probably try to visit him in the hospital today.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
on one's last legs, to be
To be extremely tired or about to collapse; near the end. Despite the implication, this term never meant that legs were in any way serial—that is, beginning with the first and ending with the last. Rather, it uses last meaning “near the end” (of one’s energy or life). The expression was already used in the sixteenth century; it appears in the play The Old Law (1599) by Thomas Middleton and Philip Massinger: “My husband goes upon his last hour now—on his last legs, I am sure.” In John Ray’s Proverbs (1678) the term is defined as meaning “bankrupt,” and since then it has been transferred to anything nearing its end or about to fail, as in, “This cliché may be on its last legs.”
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer