A search for foot/feet, immediately preceded by a noun, in the COCA turned out the chart below.
A close look at the list will reveal that seven (1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11 and 12) out of the 22 lines are related to foot as a measurement unit: a foot is equivalent to 30.48 cm.
The first one, board foot, is “a specialized unit of measure for the volume of lumber in the United States and Canada. It is the volume of a one-foot length of a board one foot wide and one inch thick.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Board_foot
- They can produce a “phenomenal” 5,000 board feet per acre per year.
- More than 3 billion board feet of usable lumber from urban old-growth trees is wasted every year by municipalities.
The other ones are easier. Have a look at the examples:
- The blue SUV I had noticed behind me earlier was parked a hundred feet away, near a back fence.
- That’s ‘cause Cusco is over eleven thousand feet above sea level.
- An acre foot, equivalent to an acre of land 1 foot deep, is roughly the amount of water used by a typical household in one year.
- The whole thing was only a couple feet long.
- Up to a half foot of rain is expected to fall by tomorrow night in some places.
- At just over fifty three square feet, the cells at Camp Delta are smaller than the typical cells for death row.
The next ones are related to parts of the body and are easily understood:
- Focus on keeping the heel of your back foot as close to the floor as possible.
- She was in her stocking feet, and didn’t want to put shoes and a coat on.
The next ones refer to movements made with feet:
- Embarrassment, shuffling feet, a nervous laugh. Had he said something wrong?
- The rhythm of her pounding feet quickened until she recognized the shadow’s source, a scudding cloud.
But pounding feet can be used creatively. Take a look at this headline:
- Soccer field lights powered by kids’ pounding feet
This is a project in a ‘favela’ in Rio de Janeiro. You can read about it here: http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/soccer-field-lights-powered-kids-pounding-feet.html
Fleet feet is easily understood from the examples below:
- But she was born with fleet feet and made an early impact as a runner.
- But it was his fleet feet that landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated on July 2, 1956.
- She is a senior sales associate and expert shoe fitter at Fleet Feet Sports Chicago.
Jaipur foot and Sach foot are related to rehabilitation:
- The range of heel deflection in the Jaipur foot was marginally greater than in the endoskeleton foot
This foot was invented by Pramod Karan Sethi (28 November 1927 – 6 January 2008), an Indian orthopaedic surgeon together with Ram Chandra Sharma, in 1969.
The Jaipur foot is an inexpensive and flexible artificial limb made of rubber and wood and is probably the lowest cost prosthetic limb available in the world. Sethi was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for helping a large number of amputees in obtaining mobility again. (Adapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._K._Sethi)
- Unlike the SACH foot, heel compression in the Jaipur foot is associated with true planter flexion.
Now let’s move to animal feet. Chicken feet are exactly what you think they are: the feet of chicken:
- Daisy can take a chicken foot and make a whole meal off of it.
- But spicy chicken feet and stinky tofu are perennial favorites.
Tube feet are also related to animals:
- Helicoplacoids lived on soft seafloors and gathered food with their tube feet.
- Tube feet also serve as the animal’s gills enabling it to take up oxygen from the seawater.
- Tube feet help echinoderms walk, feel, and even “breathe.”
And here is a very very dangerous foot: a lead foot:
- His lead foot came off the accelerator, and he switched on the AC.
- Just watch it, lead foot — speeding wastes fuel!
And these are feet you don’t want to have:
- This organization seems to be collapsing on its clay feet.
- Can we learn to take it when our heroes are shown to have clay feet?
The collocation also occurs as feet of clay. In fact, in the COCA, it occurs 31 times, while clay feet only occurs 16.
- So many leaders and heroes have been shown to have feet of clay that there’s a tremendous skepticism in society.
Feet of clay is an expression now commonly used to refer to a weakness or character flaw, especially in people of prominence. The has its origin in the Book of Daniel and refers to an image Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon saw in his dream. Daniel explains that “however impressive or strong the materials are that are used in the body of the statue, if its feet are made of clay, then the whole thing will topple over and fall to the ground.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feet_of_clay)
You may have noticed that we skipped set. Well, in fact this is a verb and occurs in the verbal collocation set foot and is usually followed by the preposition on:
- This is where Prince Charles first set foot on Welsh soil after being made Prince of Wales.
- HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT ON THE MOON JULY 1969, A.D. WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND.
Interestingly, taxpayers does not form a collocation with foot. Rather, in all examples it precedes foot the bill, which is another verbal collocation, that is, foot here is a verb meaning ‘to pay’:
- They know it is easier to export poverty to the United States and let the American taxpayers foot the bill.
- It helps when taxpayers foot the bill for your stadium.
And the list also provided an idiomatic expression: on the back foot, meaning ‘to be in a defensive posture, to be at a disadvantage’.
- So, the U.S. started off on the back foot already.
- Arguing prison governors are always on the back foot trying to manage an increasing population.
Though not shown in the list, there’s another idiomatic expression, which was used to create the remaining collocation in the chart: silver foot. The idiomatic expression is to put one’s foot in one’s mouth, meaning to say something stupid or insulting that you may regret later. Saul Bellow wrote a story called Him with his Foot in his Mouth:
Another expression, not related to feet, is to be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth. This means “to have opportunities that you did not earn but that you have from the influence of your family”:
- • You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, as might be expected of Rebecca’s daughter.
- • But you weren’t born, though, with a silver spoon in your mouth. Your mama worked 2 or 3 jobs.
A well-known American politician, Ann Richards, mixed both expressions to create a humorous remark about George Bush:
And that’s it for now. Hope you had fun!
As for me, I’m going to put my feet up and rest a bit… until next month!
Stella E. O. Tagnin professora associada do Departamento de Letras Modernas, FFLCH, da USP. Embora aposentada, continua orientando em nível de pós-graduação nas áreas de Tradução, Terminologia, Ensino e Aprendizagem, sempre com base na Lingüística de Corpus. É coordenadora do Projeto CoMET.e-mail: email@example.com.