Put your best foot forward

We make great play with ‘foot’ in our language. You put your foot it it! put a footnote on a page or be left to foot the bill! Language is even more fanciful when we come to the Latin for foot, ped- or pede- and the Greek, pod-. So let’s do a check:

A pedestrian crossing is where we put our feet; a pedal, a lever worked by the foot; a pedestal, a base, or ‘foot’ supporting a column; a pedicel, a ‘little foot’ or small stalk of a plant… And you and I and the birds are bipeds, having two feet; animals are quadruped with four feet.

So what of an impediment? This is something with ‘a foot in the way’; an obstacle, something that impedes. Of course, with a speech impediment, there seems to be a ‘foot in the mouth’.

Now for misnomers: a centipede hasn’t a hundred feet, and the millipede hasn’t a thousand feet; the numbers on both creatures vary. However, on the centipede every segment has one foot each side. And on the millipede every segment has two feet on each side. They’re easy to distinguish.

We find the Greek pod- for creatures with eight tentacles or ‘feet’ the octopod/octopus, and those creatures with ten feet legs or ‘feet’ the decapods, lobsters, crabs and shrimps.

Medical fields tend to use pod- as in podalgia, a pain in the foot, podagra, gout, meaning a ‘trap for the foot’, named by Hippocrates; and podiatry, care of the feet and podiatrist.

Europeans often refer to Australia and New Zealand as the Antipodes, our region on earth’s surface being directly opposite their’s a colourful term having ‘feet opposite’.

We’ve covered ped-, pod-, and pede- so where does pedigree come in all this? A pedigree is the recorded line of descent of a person or animal; your cat or dog might have a better pedigree than you. There’s been more control. But whatever those facts, when a pedigree is printed there are little marks showing succession, and those marks look like a bird’s foot print. The French named each mark, pied de grue, foot of a crane – and so we have our pedigree.

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