Arrow in the knee

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“I used to be a king like you, but then I took an arrow in the eye.”

~ Harold Godwinson to William the Conqueror, at the Battle of Hastings

“One does not simply take an arrow in the knee, but three in the chest. NOW GIVE ME THE RING!”

~ Boromir, son of Denethor

“I know what you’re thinking, mom. No, it’s not about knee-sex, I swear! Please don’t ground me for this…”

~ You, when your mom caught you reading this article

Arrow in the knee is a common colloquial term used by the inhabitants of the provinces of Cyrodiil and Skyrim, in the Tamrielic Empire. It is mainly used to describe a disastrous situation as a simile or metaphor, or in an exaggerative or comparative sense. It is more commonly known as a stereotypical excuse for those weak of heart to avoid trying anything at all, because they have taken ‘arrows in the knee’.

Despite the fact that the origin of this phrase is the guards in Oblivion, the first game in which greaves are unavailable as an item of armor, it is generally believed that the Imperial Guards of Whiterun were the ones who first began using it. The term has since then evolved and acquired various forms and usages, many of which are still used today.

Origins[edit | edit source]

A fully-armed Whiterun guard.

‘Arrow in the knee’ has many origin stories. The most popular version involves a young Whiterun guard by the name of Gunthar.

Gunthar, son of Gunnar, was a native of the town of Whiterun. Aspiring to be a legendary hero one day, but too poor to afford weapons and equipment (not to mention food, shelter and clothing. Skyrim is freezing cold, the weather is gray, the food is bland and the people are terrible – see England), Gunthar joined the Imperial Army at the age of sixteen. Despite the limits of his family background and his environment, Gunthar was a keen and ambitious young man who gained widespread popularity amongst the locals and his peers. By the age of eighteen, Gunthar officially became an Imperial Guard of Whiterun and has had many adventures, slaying fierce beasts and trolls.

Stormcloak bandits that plagued the lands were numerous in those days. A large horde of them dwelt in the mountains near Whiterun, robbing caravans of their cargo, setting fire to cottages, abducting women and causing much grievance all around. Jarl Balgruuf of Whiterun, for fear of civil unrest, demanded something to be done with the bandits. The Imperial Guards of Whiterun, after careful consideration, decided to use diplomacy first and sent forth their most popular man, Gunthar, to negotiate a truce.

Gunthar left early one morning, taking with him nothing more than a sword and shield. As a sign of peace, he had to leave behind his armour. He traveled up the snowy mountains and at length, reached a small valley safe from snowstorms. Smoke could be seen rising above the trees. The Stormcloak encampment was close at hand.

Suddenly, Gunthar heard screaming in the near distance. He rushed forward and saw a young, naked girl being assaulted by five Stormcloak rebels, who grabbed hold of her limbs and pressed her onto the snow. The largest of the men, obviously the leader, forced himself upon the girl and laughed a demonic laugh. Gunthar, forgetting all about his mission, drew his sword and charged the band in fury. With a swift stroke of his sword, he cut down the giant and placed himself between the rapists and the dishonored damsel. ‘Yield!’ cried the young guard, ‘Lest the Jarl have your head – or worse!’

The bandits were undeterred by a single, unarmored lad, and so they attacked Gunthar. Amidst the battle, a Stormcloak archer aimed his bow at Gunthar’s groin and released the arrow. The arrow missed its mark but pierced Gunthar’s right knee. Gunthar collapsed in extreme pain. The surviving bandits marveled at the young guard’s bravery and decided to show mercy to him and the girl, leaving them in the snow. At that moment, the Imperial Guards surrounded all of them, arrested the bandits and rescued Gunthar and the girl. Gunthar then realized he was bait all along.

Gunthar demanded justice for the girl. Jarl Balgruuf, in his effort to achieve peace with the Stormcloaks, denied that the girl was ever raped, and that Gunthar’s injury was merely an accident. When Gunthar persisted, the Jarl accused Gunthar of falsehood and had him imprisoned. However, Gunthar somehow managed to escape and, disappointed with Imperial rule, joined the Stormcloaks in an attempt to extract vengeance on Jarl Balgruuf.

The Stormcloaks won many victories against the Imperials, with the legendary ‘Limp Swordsman’ Gunthar on their side. Until one day, the Limp Swordsman met his match when a mysterious Nord youth known as the Dragonborn – destined hero of Skyrim – came forth from obscurity. With superior strength and skills, the Dovahkiin flung his opponent on the ground, picked up an arrow and stabbed him in his wounded right knee (not very noble of the Dragonborn). With his last breath, Gunthar uttered these famous words:

The Dovahkiin, for reasons unknown, subsequently used a dragon-shout on Gunthar. With a deafening ‘FUS RO DAH!’, Gunthar was sent off a cliff. His body was never found.

Gunthar was well respected by the people of Whiterun. To commemorate this great figure, Whiterun guards would greet travelers or anyone who looked like a freelance fighter with ‘I used to be an adventurer like you…but then I took an arrow in the knee’. This custom soon became popular among guards of other cities in Skyrim. Contrary to the modern superstition that all guards have sustained knee injuries, their saying ‘arrow in the knee’ was more likely a tribute to one of the most tragic unsung heroes prior to the Saga of Alduin.

Modern usage[edit | edit source]

Taking an arrow in the knee is extremely painful and dangerous. Please dial 999 for more information.

The term "arrow in the knee" can be used in many ways.

Description[edit | edit source]

An arrow in the knee is a lot of pain, therefore can be used as a simile or metaphor to describe an extremely unpleasant or disastrous event or situation; E.g. I just fell down the stairs today, it’s like taking an arrow in the knee.

Comparison[edit | edit source]

Throughout the ages, many poets and artists have attempted to relate to the sufferings of the Limp Swordsman. One famous song by singers Simon & Garfunkel goes as thus: I'd rather take an arrow in the knee than read Twilight. Yes I would, if I could, I surely would.

Exaggeration[edit | edit source]

It is not uncommon for youngsters to abuse this term in order to exaggerate how much 'pain' they are in. E.g. One Direction has decided not to visit my town, this is worse than taking an arrow in the knee! (For educational purposes, all teen girl language such as ‘OMG’, '=3' and ‘XXX’ have been removed)

The term is usually used in a sentence with the structure of ‘I used to…but then I took an arrow in the knee’. There is no specific reason for this usage except for comedy or as a stereotypical excuse. E.g. ‘I used to despise the disabled, but then I took an arrow in the knee’; 'I used to do my homework, but then I took an arrow in the knee'.

Euphemism[edit | edit source]

The term has been misinterpreted and misunderstood by people from all sectors. Your mom, for example, thought it meant having one's arrow polished by another one's knees. Well, if you have made it this far, you were probably not grounded after all. Talk about bad parenting! Congratulations. You wanker.

See also[edit | edit source]