The Humble Foot

By Maeve Maddox

For obvious reasons, the word for foot is one of the oldest in the language:

O.E. fot, from P.Gmc. *fot (cf. O.N. fotr, Du. voet, Ger. Fuß, Goth. fotus “foot”), from PIE *pod-/*ped- (cf. Avestan pad-; Skt. pat, acc. padam “foot;” Gk. pos, Attic pous, gen. podos; L. pes, gen. pedis “foot;” Lith. padas “sole,” peda “footstep”).

Like other body parts, foot has found its way into numerous idiomatic expressions. Here are just a few.

foot the bill — to pay for something, usually for something one would rather not pay for oneself: I’ll go to the convention if the company will foot the bill.

put your foot in your mouth – to say something one regrets immediately (or should!): You put your foot in your mouth with that remark about her hat.

have one foot in the grave – about to die: When you had the flu, you looked as if you had one foot in the grave.

to have itchy feet– to have a frequent desire to travel: He’s not a good marriage prospect; he has itchy feet.

to get cold feet– to feel sudden misgivings about doing something one had planned to do: It’s the morning of the wedding and the bride has cold feet.

to get off on the wrong foot–to begin an enterprise by doing something inappropriate: Susie got off on the wrong foot with her old-fashioned boss when she told him she didn’t make coffee.

to get off on the right foot – to start out doing everything right: The new fireman got off on the right foot when he saved that baby.

to put one’s best foot forward – to present oneself at one’s best: She bought a new dress and had her hair done because she wanted to put her best foot forward for the job interview.

to land on your feet to come through a difficult situation without harm: Don’t worry about Jack in this storm. He always lands on his feet.

to drag your feet to be reluctant: Stop dragging your feet and mow the grass!

to have your feet on the ground – to have a practical outlook: His decision to put off the move until he’s sure he has the job shows he has his feet on the ground.

not to put a foot wrong– to do everything according to rule and expectation: Mr. Perfect there never puts a foot wrong with the boss.

to have feet that hardly touch the ground to move quickly: On the day of the church picnic, her feet hardly touched the ground.

to put one’s feet up – to relax: Now that you’ve finished the project, you can put your feet up for awhile.

to put one’s foot down – to take a firm stand: When little Jimmy kicked the dog, his father finally put his foot down.

My foot! – expression of disbelief: Abner Potts made a perfect score on the SAT? My foot!

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8 Responses to “The Humble Foot”

  • Clare Lynch

    I know I’m a bit of a geek, but I was hoping for a discussion of i-mutation, which I think is perhaps more fascinating to those of us interested in words. (For those who don’t know, i-mutation is the reason “foot” has the irregular plural “feet”).

    Or even a discussion of poetic rhythm – the “foot” as a metrical unit – which would also be of interest to writerly types.

  • spike1

    There’s one you missed.

    The shoe (or boot) is on the other foot now. Meaning the tables have been turned.

  • Maeve

    Clare,
    I rather like my foot post. But then I get excited about learning new (to me) French idioms and proverbs that native French speakers would find ho-hum.

    When I try to visualize the DWT audience, I imagine a wide spectrum of readers. At one end I see language geeks like us who might find i-mutation interesting, and at the other, those who are learning English as a second language. Most of our readers, I imagine, fall somewhere between.

    I can’t expect every post to interest everyone every day. I try to vary the topics and hope that the daily offering will prove interesting or useful to as large a segment of the audience as possible. 🙂

  • Clare Lynch

    Fair enough, Maeve – you’re lucky enough to have a very big audience.

    If you do feel the need to blog about i-mutation at any point, please do!

  • PreciseEdit

    to get a foothold
    get your foot in the door

  • Tony

    To have your feet under the table means that the potential in-laws like you.

  • nutmeag

    Having two left feet – too clumsy to dance (like me!).

    And I, like Clare, thought of the metrical foot when I first saw the article’s title. But this was still a fun article.

  • persnickety pete

    Fun post, but I’m distracted by the hyphen/dash/no punctuation mess going on after each of the phrases you define. :o)

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