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Footloose and fancy free

Posted by ESC on October 21, 2001

In Reply to: Footloose and fancy free posted by R. Berg on October 21, 2001

: : I know what this means, but I'm looking for its origin -- when and where was it first used?

: I don't know, but the beginning of an answer is that "footloose" is a recent word as English words go. The first citation for it in the Oxford Engl. Dict. is dated 1873. It's labeled "U.S." The definition there: "Free to act as one pleases; not hampered by any ties."

FOOTLOOSE AND FANCY FREE - Footloose is, "Another case of human conduct being likened to the animations of a sail. In most sailing vessels the lower edge of the mainsail, known as the foot, was lashed to a boom to keep it stretched and properly shaped. However, there were some exceptions, notably the London River barges. These did not have a boom and the sail was allowed to hang loose along the foot. Loose-footed sails, as they came to be called, had a mind of their own and were more difficult to control. It is from this that the meaning footloose and fancy free is believed to have come." From "Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions" by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey (Sheridan House, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 1995. First published in Great Britain, 1983). A second source has the same origin, ".a sail on which the restraining ropes at the base (foot) have been slackened off" and says the phrase "footloose and fancy free" means "Unattached romantically; 'young, free and single'." Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable revised by Adrian Room (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999, Sixteenth Edition).

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