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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Foot Metaphors: why are there so many?




Not many words in English language have spawned more derivatives than the eighth century fut. The Oxford English Dictionary devotes 13 columns to this ancient noun and its offspring. The origins are Indo-Aryan and in pre Chaucerian era the word was spelt a dozen ways fowte, foyrw, fotte and even vot. Surprisingly the plural has always been some variant spelling of feet. By the 15th century the spelling has settled down to foot and the irregular plural feet. As a prefix foot has contributed delightful; to our speech. footsteps can be traced back to before 1250. Foot less and footman appear in the 14th century. Football was described in 1409 and the muggers of the 17th century were referred to as footpads. As far back as 1789 pedestrians were footsore.



When you come to think of it the term foot is used for many purposes other than the description of that "terminal part of the leg". A quick look at Encyclopaedia of Australia will reveal such diverse references as : "she dances with a light foot" or "showing nifty footwork" meaning great agility. Apart from reference to the lower end, as in "it stands at the foot of the hill and "see the footnotes." The term foot is used in the English language to represent the most diverse set of human behaviours.



The call of the grease paint and footlights (1839) pertain to the life of an actor; "Footloose (1873 created by novelists) and fancy free" and "putting things on a loose footing" mean to relax formality and be without commitment. Boxers demonstrated their fancy footwork in 1895. Of course a foot contains 12 inches or 30.48cm"; and in poetry the foot is a basic unit of division in scansion, Common everyday phrases include: "to fall on one's feet", "land on one's feet", with reference to be lucky or successful; "find one's feet", to become independent of the help of others. "My foot!", or complete nonsense!; "to put one's foot down", is to be strict or firm; "to put one's foot in it", is to make an embarrassing blunder; "to stand on one's own feet", to be self-sufficient; footsie footsie is sex rearing its ugly head again and "to sweep off one's feet", is often what happens as a result. To kneel at one's feet is giving homage and can be traced far back in English literature. To set foot , means to make a discovery.



To follow in father's footsteps relates back to the times when shoes were so expensive to buy many poor people left their shoes to relatives. To have a foot in the door refers to someone with an advantage others do not share. When things are not going as well as they might you may find yourself "under foot", meaning in the way; and of course eventually we all end up like Victor Mildew with " one foot in the grave". My all-time favourite is "the games afoot, Watson" from Sherlock Holmes, meaning the commencement of the action starts here. Reference can be made to foot as a verb, e.g. to walk: "we footed it to the shop"; and to pay as in "he footed the bill". 'To pussyfoot about' or "to be sure footed" displays a spectrum of meaning with the former being unsure with the latter assured. Like the word "hand" both has everyday meanings other than the obvious.



With the exception of head and back and of course the naughty bits, no other part of the human body features so prominently in the English language as the foot. Now why this is so, is not too clear but it may infer the importance the foot has to the human condition. Now why this is so, is not too clear but it may infer the importance the foot has to the human condition. Certainly we know cerebral development followed bipedal walking by two million years. This may in some way may have made the foot intrinsic to our psyche. Many cultures celebrate the foot and hold them with the greatest respect.



In Biblical times to wash another’s feet was considered the highest mark of respect. And as we know from previous broadcasts, patron saints of shoe and surgical boot makers were humble men. Many people do become obsessive about feet and shoes. One Chinese Emperor became so fascinated with forecasting the future from readings of the sole of the foot (Solestry); he commissioned a set of encyclopedias on the subject. There were 5,020 volumes!



Never one for buying one pair when she could have seventy pairs at a time, Greta Garbo could be described as a retifist. Shoe fetishism is a very common preoccupation with the most famous/infamous being Emelda Marcus. Gloria Swanson was an altocalciphile (she had a heel fetish) and once had a pair of shoes made with corkscrew heels studded with imitation pearls to fit her beautiful feet. Curofile (a leg fetish) D W Griffiths, the famous film director, once sponsored a beauty contest for feet and ankles with the first prize a 6 month film contract. The runner up was a pretty girl trying to break into the industry. Joan Crawford was her name, and her prize was a pair of made to measure shoes.



Reviewed 21/01/2017

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