Ronald Butters ronbutters at AOL.COM
Thu May 26 16:10:39 UTC 2011

I am delighted to have this explanation, though I don't think it actually disagrees with what I said, which was that the phrase in question "appears" to be a slip of the tongue. The fact that there is a specialized use of the exact phrase suggests strongly that the speaker was referring to fencing or (more likely) using current British slang. It still COULD be a slip of the tongue, but (as I noted) that possibility is considerably diminished on semantic grounds.

It doesn't appear that you are disagreeing at all with what was my central point about the word "narrative," which JL seemed to consider in the usage that he quoted to be a case of semantic shift, although (it seems to me) it is just a minor metaphorical usage (which, I grant, is the way that many semantic shifts do begin).

On May 26, 2011, at 8:32 AM, Amy West wrote:

> 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 -

The American Dialect Society -

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