Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Episode 113: Put Your Foot In Your Mouth Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 113: Put Your Foot In Your Mouth 

Record Date: June 12, 2021

Air Date: June 16, 2021



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Every week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from it’s entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Dan, have you ever said something and immediately regretted it? I’m not talking about something super terrible, just somewhat embarrassing or perhaps you just didn’t properly assess your audience before speaking… 

When this happens, you might be said to have “put your foot in your mouth”. 

My family used to expound upon this concept. I remember my brother once saying something along the lines of, 

“You should stop talking before you swallow your entire leg.” 

Before we get to the definition, I’d like to say thanks to our listener Jaxx for inquiring about “foot in one’s mouth” and inspiring this episode!


Oxford English Dictionary gives us a simple definition: 

to put one's foot in one's mouth and variants: to say something tactless or embarrassing. 

( entry

The OED also labels this phrase with colloquial (originally North American)

Cambridge Dictionary lists the phrase as US informal with the UK using put your foot in it and shares the following definition. 

put your foot in your mouth: to say something by accident that embarrasses or upsets someone


I really put my foot in my mouth with Eva. I had no idea she was divorced.

I think this is a great example of current usage and it also highlights that this phrase may be used to say that a person has embarrassed themself, but often is used when a person has unintentionally offended or embarrassed someone else with something they’ve said.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to put one’s foot in one’s mouth was first seen in print in 1879. As it turns out, there is another, older phrase with very similar meaning. It is unclear if these came about independently or if this next one morphed slightly and became to put one’s foot in one’s mouth”. 

This older phrase is: 

to put one's foot in it or to put one's foot into it: to get into difficulties or trouble; to make a mistake or blunder; to say or do something tactless or embarrassing.

( entry)

This phrase was seen in print nearly a century before the mouth version. 

1796   George Brewer · Bannian day, a musical entertainment

To be sure I an't now a little at a loss to know whether I've made a good hand of this, or whether I've put my foot in it.

1798   From the November issue of The Gentleman's magazine out of London

The General had put his foot into it again.

1834  from Frederick Marryat’s · Peter Simple

I put my foot into it, (as we say,) for I was nearly killed.

1861   November 30 issue of Punch - a British weekly magazine

If a fellow has really put his foot in it in an ungentlemanly manner, the Committee can hint to him to be scarce.

I want to note that while this phrase was being used before and at the same time as to put one's foot in one's mouth, there is a distinction between the two that leads to the two having separate listings in the dictionary. This version, to put one's foot in it, is referring to any mistake being made which can include but expands beyond being unwise while speaking. 

The next excerpt brings us into the 20th century and we’ll see a little bit of crossover between versions of the phrase… 

1919   March edition of The Rotarian - The Official Publication of the International Association of Rotary Clubs 

Every time I opened my mouth I put my foot into it.

This does have both the foot and mouth in the quote, but it seems this was just a turn of phrase, as it showed up after the main version familiar to the U.S.

Alright, to bring things back around, I’m going to read our main definition one more time. 

to put one's foot in one's mouth and variants: to say something tactless or embarrassing. 

1879  February 12 Waterloo Courier (out of Iowa)

He is bound to put his foot in his mouth whenever he opens it.

1902  16 July The Atlanta Constitution

General Bragg has gone and done it again! His happy faculty of putting his foot in his mouth whenever he opens it hangs to him like a toper's appetite.

There is one additional turn-of-phrase that is definitely worth mentioning and is sort of built on our idiom this week. And it is… 


According to OED foot-in-mouth is used in various phrases relating to saying something tactless or embarrassing. Frequently in foot-in-mouth disease: the habit or condition of saying something tactless or embarrassing. This is used with punning allusion to foot and mouth disease n. at Compounds 3. Foot and mouth disease affects mostly cloven-footed animals, so this is a sort of play-on-words combining the disease and the idiom. Here are two examples. 

1887   In the December 10 edition of the Syracuse Standard out of New York

The message revealed a bad case of foot in mouth disease.

And jumping into the mid-twentieth century, from the Sept 15

1952   issue of Life magazine: 

The reluctantly departing national chairman..tossed off the foot-in-mouth observation that ‘there can be only one general in a presidential campaign’.

Before we get to more modern examples, we want to give a shout out to the folks who make this show possible!

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons. 

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Modern Uses

Perhaps one of my favorite modern usages, which I was unable to find the source for but found multiple graphics of, is a modern-day take on an old proverb structure… A closed mouth gathers no feet. 

1995 Song Foot in My Mouth by Chris Tomlin, an American contemporary Christian music artist and worship leader. This song’s lyrics begin 

I saw Mrs. Parker at the store today,

She was buyin' some food

I walked up to her and I said "Hey!"

"When's the baby due?"

She said "Baby?"

"I'm not having a baby, "

"What you talkin' about?"

I said "Sorry... Mrs. Parker"

I put my foot in my mouth

The chorus follows which he sings it as though his foot is literally in his mouth...

I got my foot in my mouth,

Guess I should watch what I say,

I got my foot in my mouth,

It's prob'ly better that way

He goes on to reveal the Santa myth to his brother and to his friend that he was the guilty party who ran over his cat. Yeeesh! 

1991   May edition of Mirabella 

To the despair of his media spinmasters and five-star gurus, including Kissinger and Nixon, he had only to wander a wee bit away from his prepared script and..there he was again with his foot in his mouth.

A quick note, this quote is just a little more eugh than the rest… 

2002   Village Voice out of New York

My whole art is the art of clumsiness, of cosmic left-handedness..Sticking your foot in your mouth so many times that you get athlete's foot between your teeth.

2014   North Devon Journal 27 Feb. 2 [North Devon is a local government district in Devon, England.] 

He..has been a master of faux pas (the act of putting your foot in it, in layman's terms) throughout his life.

2021 From The Littlest Lives Rescue on Twitter, I found the sweetest photo. (link) The text reads, “And today’s bunny yoga pose is called the foot in mouth pose.” 

And of course there is an adorable bunny in the picture, perhaps trying to scratch with his little paw. It’s adorable. 

Wrap up...

As someone who has experience with social blunders, I appreciate phrases that take some of the focus and pressure off of the discomfort created by a small mistake. This phrase has definitely been used in a more negative way at times, but it simply makes any situation less severe merely by its absurdity. I don’t like talking about feet this much… but I will at least take away some words of wisdom from this adventure… 

A closed mouth gathers no feet.



That’s about all the time we have for today. Thank you to our listeners for tuning in and for sending messages and commenting. It is awesome to hear from you - your feedback encourages us and helps us get better at what we love doing. So please, keep sending us your observations, questions, and suggestions - we’re here for it! 

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Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 


Words belong to their users.

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