Sunday, April 30, 2006


Standing on One Foot

Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), p. 215, s.vv. do it while standing on one foot:
This Americanism means to do something easily and quickly, to encapsulate or describe it with little effort, as in "She explained her theory to reporters while standing on one foot."
This sort of expression isn't confined to American speech. It is thousands of years old, at least. Horace, Satires 1.4.9-10, wrote concerning Lucilius:
In an hour he used to dictate two hundred verses (as a great feat), standing on one foot.

                                  in hora saepe ducentos,
ut magnum, versus dictabat stans pede in uno.

Arthur Palmer ad loc. says that stans pede in uno is "a proverbial expression for doing anything with facility," but he gives no parallels.

The expression also occurs in the Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a (tr. Michael L. Rodkinson):
Another Gentile came to Shamai saying: "Convert me on the condition that thou teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Shamai pushed him away with the builders' measure he held in his hand. He thereupon came to Hillel, and the latter accepted him. He told him: "What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow; this is the whole law. All the rest is a commentary to this law; go and learn it."

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