Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed May 25 15:33:14 UTC 2011

The phrase "on the back foot" appears in some online references and

on the back foot
(idiomatic) In a defensive posture; off-balance. foot

Idiom Definitions for 'Back foot'
If you are on your back foot, you are at a disadvantage and forced to
be defensive of your position.

back foot n
on the back foot at a disadvantage; outmanoeuvred or outclassed by an
opponent they were on the back foot directly from the kick-off

on the back foot
in a worse situation than other people or groups
Brazil’s brilliant play put their opponents on the back foot.

on the back foot
forced into a defensive posture

If you search for the longer phrase "is on the back foot" in the
Google News archive you find that most of the matches are for
instances of the metaphor. The histogram displayed by Google News
archive suggests the frequency of appearance increased starting in the
mid 1990s. Searching for "on the back foot" also yields a histogram
with a recent ascent. But there are a large number of false matches.

Popular domains of application: politics, cricket, warfare, boxing, rugby.
Michael Quinion notes that the phrase may have originated in cricket.

Here is a match in 1986:
Hawke Walking On A Long Tightrope To Next Election .
The Age - Google News Archive - Sep 15, 1986
While the Government is on the back foot and struggling in the polls,
and John Howard has risen from the dead, the Opposition still has a
good way to go to ...

On Wed, May 25, 2011 at 11:19 AM, Michael Quinion
<wordseditor at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Michael Quinion <wordseditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG>
> Organization: World Wide Words
> Subject:      Re: narrative
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Ron Butters wrote:
>> "On the back foot" appears to be a mere slip of the tongue, a blend of
>> (?) "on the back burner" and "on the wrong foot" (though that
>> interpretation does not seem to lead to the reading that JL gives it).
> It's not an error but a British English idiom from cricket. It comes from
> a batsman's being forced to put his weight on to his back foot, to take up
> a defensive posture, because of the strength or accuracy of the bowler. As
> an idiom it mean that a person has been forced into a defensive position.
> --
> Michael Quinion
> Editor, World Wide Words
> Web:
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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