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to keep at arm's length
From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48:
Keep \Keep\ (k[=e]p), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Kept (k[e^]pt); p. pr. & vb. n. Keeping.] [OE. k[=e]pen, AS. c[=e]pan to keep, regard, desire, await, take, betake; cf. AS. copenere lover, OE. copnien to desire.] 1. To care; to desire. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] I kepe not of armes for to yelp [boast]. --Chaucer. [1913 Webster] 2. To hold; to restrain from departure or removal; not to let go of; to retain in one's power or possession; not to lose; to retain; to detain. [1913 Webster] If we lose the field, We can not keep the town. --Shak. [1913 Webster] That I may know what keeps me here with you. --Dryden. [1913 Webster] If we would weigh and keep in our minds what we are considering, that would instruct us. --Locke. [1913 Webster] 3. To cause to remain in a given situation or condition; to maintain unchanged; to hold or preserve in any state or tenor. [1913 Webster] His loyalty he kept, his love, his zeal. --Milton. [1913 Webster] Keep a stiff rein, and move but gently on. --Addison. [1913 Webster] Note: In this sense it is often used with prepositions and adverbs, as to keep away, to keep down, to keep from, to keep in, out, or off, etc. "To keep off impertinence and solicitation from his superior." --Addison. [1913 Webster] 4. To have in custody; to have in some place for preservation; to take charge of. [1913 Webster] The crown of Stephanus, first king of Hungary, was always kept in the castle of Vicegrade. --Knolles. [1913 Webster] 5. To preserve from danger, harm, or loss; to guard. [1913 Webster] Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee. --Gen. xxviii. 15. [1913 Webster] 6. To preserve from discovery or publicity; not to communicate, reveal, or betray, as a secret. [1913 Webster] Great are thy virtues . . . though kept from man. --Milton. [1913 Webster] 7. To attend upon; to have the care of; to tend. [1913 Webster] And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden, to dress it and to keep it. --Gen. ii. 15. [1913 Webster] In her girlish age, she kept sheep on the moor. --Carew. [1913 Webster] 8. To record transactions, accounts, or events in; as, to keep books, a journal, etc.; also, to enter (as accounts, records, etc. ) in a book. [1913 Webster] 9. To maintain, as an establishment, institution, or the like; to conduct; to manage; as, to keep store. [1913 Webster] Like a pedant that keeps a school. --Shak. [1913 Webster] Every one of them kept house by himself. --Hayward. [1913 Webster] 10. To supply with necessaries of life; to entertain; as, to keep boarders. [1913 Webster] 11. To have in one's service; to have and maintain, as an assistant, a servant, a mistress, a horse, etc. [1913 Webster] I keep but three men and a boy. --Shak. [1913 Webster] 12. To have habitually in stock for sale. [1913 Webster] 13. To continue in, as a course or mode of action; not to intermit or fall from; to hold to; to maintain; as, to keep silence; to keep one's word; to keep possession. [1913 Webster] Both day and night did we keep company. --Shak. [1913 Webster] Within this portal as I kept my watch. --Smollett. [1913 Webster] 14. To observe; to adhere to; to fulfill; not to swerve from or violate; to practice or perform, as duty; not to neglect; to be faithful to. [1913 Webster] I have kept the faith. --2 Tim. iv. 7. [1913 Webster] Him whom to love is to obey, and keep His great command. --Milton. [1913 Webster] 15. To confine one's self to; not to quit; to remain in; as, to keep one's house, room, bed, etc.; hence, to haunt; to frequent. --Shak. [1913 Webster] 'Tis hallowed ground; Fairies, and fawns, and satyrs do it keep. --J. Fletcher. [1913 Webster] 16. To observe duly, as a festival, etc.; to celebrate; to solemnize; as, to keep a feast. [1913 Webster] I went with them to the house of God . . . with a multitude that kept holyday. --Ps. xlii. 4. [1913 Webster] To keep at arm's length. See under Arm, n. To keep back. (a) To reserve; to withhold. "I will keep nothing back from you." --Jer. xlii. 4. (b) To restrain; to hold back. "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins." --Ps. xix. 13. To keep company with. (a) To frequent the society of; to associate with; as, let youth keep company with the wise and good. (b) To accompany; to go with; as, to keep company with one on a voyage; also, to pay court to, or accept attentions from, with a view to marriage. [Colloq.] To keep counsel. See under Counsel, n. To keep down. (a) To hold in subjection; to restrain; to hinder. (b) (Fine Arts) To subdue in tint or tone, as a portion of a picture, so that the spectator's attention may not be diverted from the more important parts of the work. To keep good hours or To keep bad hours, to be customarily early (or late) in returning home or in retiring to rest. To keep house. (a) To occupy a separate house or establishment, as with one's family, as distinguished from boarding; to manage domestic affairs. (b) (Eng. Bankrupt Law) To seclude one's self in one's house in order to evade the demands of creditors. To keep one's hand in, to keep in practice. To keep open house, to be hospitable. To keep the peace (Law), to avoid or to prevent a breach of the peace. To keep school, to govern, manage and instruct or teach a school, as a preceptor. To keep a stiff upper lip, to keep up one's courage. [Slang] To keep term. (a) (Eng. Universities) To reside during a term. (b) (Inns of Court) To eat a sufficient number of dinners in hall to make the term count for the purpose of being called to the bar. [Eng.] --Mozley & W. To keep touch. See under Touch, n. To keep under, to hold in subjection; hence, to oppress. To keep up. (a) To maintain; to prevent from falling or diminution; as, to keep up the price of goods; to keep up one's credit. (b) To maintain; to continue; to prevent from ceasing. "In joy, that which keeps up the action is the desire to continue it." --Locke. Syn: To retain; detain; reserve; preserve; hold; restrain; maintain; sustain; support; withhold. -- To Keep. Usage: Retain, Preserve. Keep is the generic term, and is often used where retain or preserve would too much restrict the meaning; as, to keep silence, etc. Retain denotes that we keep or hold things, as against influences which might deprive us of them, or reasons which might lead us to give them up; as, to retain vivacity in old age; to retain counsel in a lawsuit; to retain one's servant after a reverse of fortune. Preserve denotes that we keep a thing against agencies which might lead to its being destroyed or broken in upon; as, to preserve one's health; to preserve appearances. [1913 Webster] .
From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48:
Arm \Arm\, n. [AS. arm, earm; akin to OHG. aram, G., D., Dan., & Sw. arm, Icel. armr, Goth. arms, L. armus arm, shoulder, and prob. to Gr. ? joining, joint, shoulder, fr. the root ? to join, to fit together; cf. Slav. rame. ?. See Art, Article.] 1. The limb of the human body which extends from the shoulder to the hand; also, the corresponding limb of a monkey. [1913 Webster] 2. Anything resembling an arm; as, (a) The fore limb of an animal, as of a bear. (b) A limb, or locomotive or prehensile organ, of an invertebrate animal. (c) A branch of a tree. (d) A slender part of an instrument or machine, projecting from a trunk, axis, or fulcrum; as, the arm of a steelyard. (e) (Naut) The end of a yard; also, the part of an anchor which ends in the fluke. (f) An inlet of water from the sea. (g) A support for the elbow, at the side of a chair, the end of a sofa, etc. [1913 Webster] 3. Fig.: Power; might; strength; support; as, the secular arm; the arm of the law. [1913 Webster] To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? --Isa. lii. 1. [1913 Webster] Arm's end, the end of the arm; a good distance off. --Dryden. Arm's length, the length of the arm. Arm's reach, reach of the arm; the distance the arm can reach. To go (or walk) arm in arm, to go with the arm or hand of one linked in the arm of another. "When arm in armwe went along." --Tennyson. To keep at arm's length, to keep at a distance (literally or figuratively); not to allow to come into close contact or familiar intercourse. To work at arm's length, to work disadvantageously. [1913 Webster]