The Humble Foot

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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 thoughts on “The Humble Foot”

  1. 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.

  2. There’s one you missed.

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

  3. 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. 🙂

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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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