Amy West medievalist at W-STS.COM
Thu May 26 12:32:52 UTC 2011

I'm going to disagree, Ron, based on having done some historical
fencing. The historical (1700s) smallsword position, unlike the modern
sport fencing position, has you leaning *backwards* with your weight on
the back foot. Why? It keeps your torso further away from your
opponent's point. So "on back foot" meaning being defensive makes sense
to me.

Now, I haven't checked any dictionaries or corpora to see if it is a
fixed idiom. . . .

---Amy West

On 5/26/11 12:03 AM, Automatic digest processor 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).
> On May 25, 2011, at 8:09 AM, Jonathan Lighter<wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>  wrote:
>> >
>> >  Cameron also observed that the Taliban "is on the back foot" in Afghanistan,
>> >  i.e., "on the defensive; at a disadvantage."

The American Dialect Society -

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