Shoot oneself on the foot or in the foot?

Akeem Lasisi
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A critic, on Friday, noted that one of our presidential candidates had ‘shot himself on the leg’ based on a decision he (the politician) recently made. Politics apart, the commentator’s message is grammatically understandable. It is clear that he intended to use the idiom that means to foolishly harm one’s cause. While ‘idea is needed’, as the complacent language user’s saying goes, the construction is definitely deficient. The expression, shot himself on the leg, is more than awkward.

The question is: Does someone shoot himself on the leg, in the leg, on the foot or in the foot? In the original and correct idiom, foot is used instead of leg. This means that the question of shoot on the leg or shoot in the leg is out. The next poser, then, is: is it shoot yourself/oneself on the foot or shoot yourself/oneself in the foot?

Note that the correct idiom is shoot yourself/oneself in the foot. The idiom (which Cambridge Dictionary also defines as to do something without intending to which spoils a situation for yourself) is, truly speaking, one of those that usually suffer what can be tagged prepositional errors.  Even literally speaking, someone is shot – with a gun – in the leg, not on it. Idiom-wise, you shoot yourself in the foot.

It is the same principle that applies to ‘stab in the back’.  Whether figuratively speaking or literally, you stab someone in the back:

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I did all to help Kelvin but he later stabbed me on the back. (Wrong)

Blood flowed after the criminal stabbed the traveller on the back. (Wrong)

I did all to help Kelvin but he later stabbed me in the back. (Correct)

Blood flowed after the criminal stabbed the traveller in the back. (Correct)

In/on the fast lane

In one of our past lessons, we had actually stressed that ‘in’, not ‘on’, is used with ‘stab’ in the context under discussion. It was also pointed out that someone is said to be in the queue, not on the queue.  So, you ask someone to join the queue or be in the queue – not be on the queue. The same applies to the fast-lane idiom:

Chief Eroda has been on the fast lane since he retired. (Wrong)

Chief Eroda has been in the fast lane since he retired. (Correct)

To be in the fast lane means to live in a way that is exciting and slightly dangerous, as Cambridge Dictionary puts it.

Here are some other idioms that begin with ‘in’, with their meanings and examples in clauses:

In the soup – to be in an unpleasant or difficult situation

Jide is in the soup because he damaged his father’s car.

In hot water – to be in trouble

I am in hot water because the Federal Road Safety officials caught me driving against the traffic.

In the same boat – be in the same situation

On challenges of terrorism, Nigeria and Chad are in the same boat.

In the bag – a certainty

I knew the trophy was already in the bag when our team got five goals in the first half of the game.

In the red – operating at a loss or under debt

The company had been in the red for years before it finally folded up.

In full swings – At the highest level or speed of activity

The political parties will soon start working in full swings towards 2023.

In cold blood – doing something violent deliberately and in an unemotional way

The insurgents killed 20 villagers in cold blood.

In a tight spot – in a difficult situation

There is no doubting the fact that our country is in a tight spot considering our current debt portfolio.

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