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Foot in mouth.

Posted by Pamela on June 28, 2006

In Reply to: Re: "There wasn't wool..." posted by R. Berg on June 25, 2006

: : : "There wasn't wool enough in the basket to knit socks for those feet".
: : : This sentence appears in book by Irish author Sebastian Barry (A long, long way). It appears just after the main character (whose words they are) has been offended on his Irishness by an Englishman who considers himself very witty. We are in 1918 in the British army on the Western Front in Belgium.
: : : Does anyone have a clue what this sentence means? Any help or hints would be appreciated - I am working on the Danish translation of this book.
: : : Thank you

: : Could you quote a little bit more of the text that precedes the phrase? This might help us understand the contextual meaning of a fairly straight-forward joking remark: the Englishman has big feet. I'm guessing that the Englishman doesn't literally have big feet but rather that the Irishman is making a (sour?)joke about the Englishman's lack of tact. In English there is a common expres-sion "He put his foot in it" which is used to describe someone who has tactlessly or accidently said something that embarrasses, offends or upsets someone. (I think the"it" is cow manure in the literal meaning of the phrase). Sometimes the phrase is varied to become "he put his big foot in it" to emphasise the ineptness of the person making the remark (a big - and therefore clumsy - foot is more likely to find itself in the wrong place than a small one). If the Englishman hadn't predicted the offence that his comment caused to the main character (or the degree of offence had been greater than intended by the joke), then "There wasn't wool enough in the basket to knit socks for those feet" means "he has big feet" which suggests "and he stuck his big foot in it" (to my mind at least). As I said, perhaps if you quote some more of the text it might give more clues. Pamela

: "Wool" in this context means yarn, which is sometimes kept in a basket. As Pamela said, the speaker is saying indirectly that the man has big feet. A basketful of yarn wouldn't make him one pair of socks. However, in my experience (U.S. usage), "put his foot in it" means "put his foot in his mouth," which means to utter something tactless impulsively. ~rb

RB is right: the "it" in "put his foot in it" is "mouth". I hadn't remembered that. Although why a big foot would be more likely to end up in your mouth than a small one is anybody's guess. Pamela