keep (someone or something) at arm's length

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keep (someone or something) at arm's length

1. To maintain a protective level of detachment or dissociation from someone or something. John has been keeping us all at arm's length lately, so none of us knows how he is really doing. The senator was careful to keep the controversial topic at arm's length during his re-election campaign.
2. To prevent someone, something, or oneself from interacting, being involved, or becoming associated too closely with someone or something else. Typically followed by "from someone or something." The government has so far been keeping the country at arm's length from the hostilities in the region. My mother was very overprotective, and she always kept me at arm's length from anything or anyone she thought might be harmful.
See also: keep, length
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

keep at arm's length, to

To avoid familiarity, to keep someone at a distance. This expression, with its inevitable image of extending one’s arm to push someone away, has long been used figuratively to signify distancing oneself from a problem, group, political stand, and so forth. In the sixteenth century it was put as at arm’s end, as Sir Philip Sidney had it in Arcadia (1580), but by the mid-seventeenth century it began to appear as at arm’s length.
See also: keep, to
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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