Thursday, December 15, 2016
Bill from Merrit asked about the phrase “to foot the bill.” It means to pay the bill, often covering the debts of others, as a good host will.
Foot refers to the bottom end of something -- in our day, the bottom line of a receipt or bill. Early on, it meant to add any column of figures. The Oxford English Dictionary gives an entry from 1491, translated as, “The time that his count was footed.” [Acts Lords of Council Civil Causes]
By 1770, it referred to an amount: “His account is longer, and will foot as to the sum total, larger than those of his juniors.” [N. Hooker] Later, it was expanded to mean an outcome or result: “The whole situation footed up to the conclusion that I should sell the house I had and with her buy another one we chose together.” [A. Theroux]
It took on a negative meaning – paying a bill run up by someone else or a bill unreasonable in its amount – by 1819: “My dogs..helped themselves to the first repast presented, leaving their master to foot the bills.” [Estwick Evans]
A kissing cousin to this phrase is “the bottom line.” In business, it refers to net income as opposed to gross income.
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