On foot of an Irish idiom

In a comment on my post about 12 Irish English usages, Margaret suggested that I write about the Irish expression on foot of. It was a good idea: the phrase is not widely known outside Ireland and is therefore liable to cause confusion, if this exchange is any indication.

On foot of means ‘because of’, ‘as a result of’, or ‘on the basis of’. T.P. Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno-English offers the example sentences ‘On foot of this, we can’t go any further with this deal’ and ‘On foot of the charges, he had to appear in the court’.

These lines suggest it’s a formal phrase, and that’s invariably how I see it used; I’ve yet to hear it in everyday conversation. A search on Google News shows that it’s common in crime reporting in Ireland. I also see it in academic and business prose, an impression confirmed by the example sentences in Oxford Dictionaries, e.g.:

Further decisions could be taken on foot of that, he said.

It was on foot of one of these monthly reviews that the decision to close the nursery was taken in August.

A spokesperson for the site said they were very disappointed that on foot of legal advice they had to shut the service down.

A search for the phrase on IrishTimes.com or IrishExaminer.com returns thousands of hits, including in headlines. Here’s a couple:

By contrast, a search for on foot of on the TheGuardian.com returns just 146 hits, many of them false positives (‘a journey on foot of 26 miles’) or quoting Irish sources.

The OED labels the usage Irish English and stresses its jurisprudential use, defining it as: ‘consequent and in conformance to (a legal judgment, decision, etc.); on the basis of’. It dates it to 1818 and says the phrase derives from foot in the sense footing, as in on an equal footing.

On foot of all that, I need say no more about it.


18 Responses to On foot of an Irish idiom

  1. noemi jaffe says:

    Hello! Some weeks ago, in a post of yours, there were links to several podcasts on words and language. I can’t find them anymore. Could you tell me where they are? Thanks!

    • Stan Carey says:

      Hello! I’m guessing you mean this list at Superlinguo, which I included in a linkfest in May.
      There’s a search box on the right of this blog (or at the bottom, if you’re on a phone), a little below ‘Recent Comments’. Searching for ‘podcasts’ or whatever you’re looking for should do the trick next time.

  2. Loved this! Such a wonderful, chewy English the Irish have.

    I’m after finishing [did I do that right?] one of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad mysteries, and the narrator has a tendency to put the word “but” at the END of clauses (along the lines of “I’m used to gore. I’ve never seen anything like this, but.”)

    I’ve never encountered this before, and it took me a while to figure out what was going on. Is this an Irishism? If so, any chance you have a blog post in you to further enlighten?


    • Stan Carey says:

      Thanks, Elizabeth! Yes, this is an Irishism: in informal Irish English, though seldom my own, but is sometimes transposed to the end of a sentence or clause for emphasis. In this position it functions like though or however. Dolan’s Hiberno-English archive has a brief note and examples. I’m not planning a post on it, but.
      Excellent use of the Irish after perfect, by the way!

      • Thanks so much!

        You know, I have grammar students every semester who are astonished to learn they are “allowed” to start a sentence with “but.” If I told them that in Ireland they could even END a sentence with “but,” their heads might explode….

        • astraya says:

          I can’t remember ‘on foot’ being used in Australia to mean ‘because’. I *think* it was sometimes used to mean ‘happening, proceeding’ eg ‘The (police/court) case is on foot’. But quite definitely, ‘but’ at the end of the sentence was a shibboleth for those of Irish descent. (I have in mind a friend with the surname Condon.)

          • Stan Carey says:

            A quick search shows a few examples of ‘the investigation is on foot’ – meaning, as you say, proceeding – and occurring significantly in Australia. So your memory was spot on.

  3. geckomayhem says:

    Hi Stan. Haven’t read your blog in years but WordPress made me reset my password and, well, here I am. :)

    I’ve encountered a couple of things that I find to be grammatically odd, but which may indeed just be “Irishisms” (or UKisms). The first is using past tense in place of present perfect (e.g. “It was took” instead of “It was taken”). I hear this frequently from an Irish YouTuber, and was wondering if it is dialectical or quite common in Ireland.

    The second is using the past tense in place of continuous (e.g. “She was sat on the bench” instead of “She was sitting on the bench”). This rings so wrong, as in my mind, only continuous form works to talk about something that he/she/it was doing. It’s an action that was being done, hence why it must be continuous.

    I find both of these odd to hear, and even read the latter occasionally from UK writers. I’ve only noticed it in recent years though, so is it likely that this is a UK shift from what’s acceptable towards alternative forms of speech?


    • Stan Carey says:

      Welcome back, geckomayhem. :-) These are both regional forms, occurring in UK and Irish Englishes (and probably others). The ‘was sat’ construction is common in Britain, as is ‘was stood’. Robert Burchfield, in his revision of Fowler, notes that this use of sat ‘was once standard but has gradually become regionally restricted over the centuries’. He also suggests that its currency ‘on the fringes of standard English is increasing’. It’s certainly common enough in dialectal use, as a search for ‘was sat’ or ‘was stood’ in Google Books shows.

      Tenses in Irish English don’t quite align with those in standard English, partly because of the influence of Irish. So in colloquial use there’s often some stretching of standard forms beyond their usual scope. ‘Was took’ is one example; others I’ve heard include ‘I seen’, ‘we done’, and ‘I’ve went’. I don’t think these are likely to enter standard English any time soon.

  4. FabSports says:

    Very good, simple and clear enough answer. We speak differently in Ireland or (in Irish English), also this days the British/English now speaks some grammar which are way too odd to what we know and learnt of proper English language. Examples 1) “we was going” spoken in London area. 2) “I were there” or ” i were here” spoken in Yorkshire area. Such is the influence of regional accent and cultural differences on English language.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Thank you. Yes, regional dialects in Ireland, the UK, and around the world all diverge from standard English in striking and interesting ways, both lexically and grammatically. Long may it continue.

  5. Edward Barrett says:

    I’d never (to my recollection) heard the phrase ‘on foot of’ until reading this post.

    Then minutes later, I picked up ‘My Name Is Bridget’ by Alison O’Reilly, and read this passage on p7:

    ” . . . Ann Glennon began compiling a list of names of children whose death certs listed ‘Tuam Mother and Baby Home’ as the place of death. Night after night she worked . . . putting together the list on foot of Catherine’s request for information.”

    • Stan Carey says:

      Impeccable timing! I suspect that many Irish people who use or encounter the idiom regularly would be surprised to learn it’s an Irishism. It’s not normally discussed in the context of Irish English usages, instead flying beneath the radar somewhat.

  6. Judy Robinson Snider says:

    I just encountered ‘on foot’ in an Irish government document regarding applying for birth certificates: “it will only be possible to pay via the online link which will be securely emailed to you on foot of your order.” I knew it must be an Irish idiom, and found your explanation. Thx from Canada!

  7. […] On foot of is a more formal phrase, not generally heard in everyday speech but found regularly in […]

  8. Will says:

    I’ll add to this the Irish use of the word “strand” for beach. We Brits must have used it here at one stage, hence The Strand in London, which was once the northern bank of The Thames.

    I also found out a few weeks ago (after working on the Irish edition of a UK newspaper for years) that the Irish never call apartments “flats”, which is common over here.

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