In the gif below, the character on the far right is saying, "So, what should I do with my arms? Like, akimbo?" He's asking if he should poke his elbows out and place his hands on his hips. That's what it means when you've set your arms akimbo.
In other words, to stand with arms akimbo is to stand with your hands at your hips, with your elbows poking out.
Arms akimbo look kind of awkward and sharp. So, it makes sense that the word "akimbo" might have come from the Middle English phrase "in keen bow," meaning "set at a sharp angle."
Usually, when we use the word "akimbo," we're talking about someone standing with their hands on their hips. Notice how, when you stand with arms akimbo, you might look strong, forceful, in charge, and sure of yourself.
Because arms akimbo create these sharp, awkward angles, we can also use the word "akimbo" to mean crooked, at an angle, bent outward, flung outward in a wild way, or just wild and disorderly. If you use the word this way, be sure to place it after the object or action you're describing. Like this: "Cady fell into the trash can, legs akimbo."
Lastly, you might meet a character in a book or a show whose name or nickname is Akimbo. What could that mean? Well, you'd have to ask the writer to be 100% sure! But now that you know what "akimbo" means, and you know that arms akimbo can look confident or awkward, you can take a very good guess. For example, in Alexander McCall Smith's book Akimbo and the Elephants, I think the main character is called Akimbo because he's a wild mixture of confidence and awkwardness. He's strong, and he's determined to venture out alone and save his beloved elephants, but he's also young, meek, scared of many things, and at times, very unsure of himself. He's amazing, but he's also a mess. He's Akimbo!
Make a flash card:
You can write your own definition and choose your own picture, or copy mine.
set in a strange, awkward, poked-out way
Write your own sentence!
You can use either of the two ideas I'll suggest, or you can invent your own. Include as much detail as you can!