pull someone's leg

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The phrase, from Scotland, originally meant to make a fool of someone, often by cheating them. One theory is that it derives from tripping someone by yanking or pulling their leg, in order to make them stumble and look foolish.[1]


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pull someone's leg (third-person singular simple present pulls someone's leg, present participle pulling someone's leg, simple past and past participle pulled someone's leg)

  1. (idiomatic) To tease someone; to lead someone on; to goad someone into overreacting. It usually implies teasing or goading by jokingly lying.
    • 1934, Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance, 1992 Bantam edition, →ISBN, page 111:
      I hadn't pulled Mrs. Barstow's leg for any of that stuff, she had just handed it to me on a platter, and that wasn't my fault.
    • 1979, Life of Brian[1], spoken by Mr. Cheeky (Eric Idle):
      No, I'm just pulling your leg, it's crucifixion really.


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  1. ^ 'pull one's leg', Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition, 1988