Early American Trivia: Put your best foot forward.

You’ve probably been told to “put our best forward.” Did you ever wonder what it means?

Since you have only two feet, the phrase “put your better foot forward” would make more sense as best implies comparison among three or more. However, the saying “put your best foot forward” has been used since somewhere between the 15th and 17th centuries.

The Idiom Site says:

To ‘Put Your Best Foot Forward’ or ‘to make a bold start’ originated when ladies looked for a well turned leg in men.

The Phrase Finder says:

Meaning

Embark on a journey or task with purpose and gusto.

Origin

First recorded in 1613 from Sir Thomas Overbury: “Hee is still setting the best foot forward.”

The Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings dates “Always put your best foot forward” to 1495, but provides no supporting evidence for that.

‘Put your best foot forward’ is rather an odd saying as it implies you have three or more feet. Cows may be able to put their best foot forward but ‘put your better foot forward’ would make more sense for humans. Shakespeare used a form of that expression in King John: “Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.”

However, that’s not what I learned from a museum guide on a historic tour of Greensboro, North Carolina.

The guide explained that when young ladies curtsied and young men bowed, they were advised to “put their best foot forward” to make the best curtsy or bow possible. It seems that people are left- or right-footed just as they are left- or right-handed. So parents wanted their children to put forward their “best” foot, depending on whether they were left- or right-footed.

Now you know …

Please share your early American trivia in comments.

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