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Feet of clay

  • The phrase feet of clay is an idiom that dates to the mid-1700s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beating around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the definition of the expression feet of clay, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    Feet of clay means a fatal flaw, a negative characteristic or attribute that is hidden in an otherwise admirable human being. The expression feet of clay is applied to someone who seems to be a paragon of virtue or is exceptionally prominent or well-thought of in the community. For instance, a champion of civil rights who is also a womanizer may be said to have feet of clay. A captain of industry who also has a drug problem may be said to have feet of clay. Synonyms for the phrase feet of clay that may be found in a thesaurus are flawed, weak, irresolute. The idiom feet of clay may be traced to a certain passage in the Old Testament of the Bible. In the Book of Daniel, the prophet Daniel interprets a dream for King Nebuchadnezzar. In the dream, the king sees a richly made idol that has feet made of clay: “This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.” From this image, Daniel predicted the breaking apart of the king’s empire.

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    Examples

    It has been long known that idols have feet of clay, which is why there is that phrase about idols’ clay feet, but nowadays, the spin doctors have to twirl twice as fast just to stay in the same place. (The Los Angeles Times)

    The cast includes Henry Perkins, an insignificant London accountant solidly situated in the English middle class who just received the best birthday present ever; Jean Perkins, Henry’s wife — a pretty, ordinary middle class English housewife leading an ordinary life; Betty Johnson, a buxom and cheerful housewife and a woman who can think on her feet, who, along with her husband, is best friends with the Perkinses; Vic Johnson, Betty’s husband, a brash man with feet of clay who seems to be a step behind everyone else; Davenport, a detective sergeant who’s seen it all and wants a piece of the action; Slater, another police officer, a solicitous and kindly soul until provoked; and Bill, a cabbie who is full of spirit and very resourceful. (The Newtown Bee)

    Unfortunately, today so many of our heroes have feet of clay that I deplore casting mud on the image of a truly great hero. (The Buffalo News)


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