Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Foot The Bill

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 4, 2016

The person who, or organization that, foots the bill is the person who, or organization that, pays the bill or settles the outstanding debt.  Yes, whoever foots the bill is the one who is responsible for payment due.

Just last week, on September 27, 2016 WFLA Channel 8 reporter Mark Douglas reported on what was going on with the Largo Building Department.  From those who were under state investigation to a whistleblower action against the city, Mark Douglas shared that taxpayers are on the hook for paying the legal defense costs for the department.  The article on the website was titled, “You Paid For It: Taxpayers Once Again Foot The Bill For Building Officials Accused Of Breaking Laws.”

Forty years earlier on September 5, 1976, Elaine Dundy, writing for the New York Times, reported on the 90-minute animated film based on psychoanalyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Erik Erikson’s eight stages of man.  According to Erik Erikson (15 June 1902 – 12 May 1994), every stage carried with it a crucial conflict that needed to be resolved before the individual could move on to the next stage.  Any unresolved stage supposedly resulted in an emotional crisis.

The stages according to Erik Erickson were as follows:

  1. Hope: trust vs. mistrust (infancy, 0 to 2 years)
  2. Will: autonomy vs. shame and doubt (early childhood, 2 to 4 years)
  3. Purpose: initiative vs. guilt (preschool, 4 to 5 years)
  4. Competence: industry vs. inferiority (school age, 5 to 12 years)
  5. Fidelity: identity vs. role confusion (adolescence, 13 to 19 years)
  6. Love: intimacy vs. isolation (early adulthood, 20 to 39 years)
  7. Care: generativity vs. stagnation (adulthood, 40 to 64 years)
  8. Wisdom: ego integrity vs. despair (maturity, 65 through to death)

Faith and John Hubley (well-known for their work on “Mr. Magoo” and other cartoons) were saddled with running every storyboard past an advisory panel of psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, educators, students, and network executives before moving on to the next stage.  The idiom was used in this paragraph describing the situation.

“Everybody Rides the Carousel” has been in the works for 10 years. First, permission from Erikson himself has to be obtained, then the rights from his publisher and last but not least the money to underwrite the project. After several failed attempts by the husband-and-wife team with both public television and other commercial networks, CBS agreed to foot the bill — with a condition.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) identified seven stages in his play, “As You Like It” in Act 2, scene 7 in a monologue delivered by Jaques.  Shakespeare identifies the stages as follows: Infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, old age, and second childhood.

Australian historian and professor at the University of Melbourne, Sir Ernest Scott (21 June 1867 – 6 December 1939) edited, “Australia: A Reissue of Volume VII, Part I of the Cambridge History of the British Empire” which was published in 1933.  The expression is found on page 357 of this publication.

Queensland would set the other colonies an example in dealing with a procrastinating mother country and save Australia from the “irremediable disaster” of further foreign occupation in New Guinea.  She offered to foot the bill.  But the elderly parent was not to be bolted by her youngest child.  Lord Derby first enquired of the Foreign Office whether he could be assured that no foreign Power would set up a claim to the territory Queensland had annexed, and on receiving an answer that Lord Granville thought no such action intended by any foreign Power, he declined to approve the annexation.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Originally from Northampton, England, Sir Ernest Scott migrated to Australia in 1892 where he lived until his death.  Upon his death, his widow, Emily Scott (who was also his second wife) funded the establishment of the Ernest Scott Prize for History that continues to be awarded annually for the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand.

In Chapter XIII of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), and published on December 10, 1884, the author made use of the idiom.  The story is set sometime between 1835 and 1845, and takes place on the Mississippi River running through Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas, with specific attention to St. Petersburg, Missouri.  At the time, slavery was legal, and the dilemma Huck faced in the story was whether to turn in his friend (and runaway slave), Jim.  The expression appears in this passage in the story.

“Why THAT’S all right. Miss Hooker she tole me, PARTICULAR, that her uncle Hornback –“

“Great guns! is HE her uncle? Looky here, you break for that light over yonder-way, and turn out west when you git there, and about a quarter of a mile out you’ll come to the tavern; tell ’em to dart you out to Jim Hornback’s, and he’ll foot the bill. And don’t you fool around any, because he’ll want to know the news. Tell him I’ll have his niece all safe before he can get to town. Hump yourself, now; I’m a- going up around the corner here to roust out my engineer.”

SIDE NOTE 3:  It took Mark Twain seven years to write “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” mostly because he wrote the majority of it in 1876 and didn’t pick the story back up (to finish writing the story) until August 1883.

In 1844, the idiom appeared in the “Report of the Superintendent of Common Schools of the State of New York.”

And yet this monstrous power has been conferred upon those officers, subject to no control from any quarter, and the board of supervisors is obliged, without the least exercise of its own discretion, to foot the bills.  Some amendments, therefore, I repeat, are imperiously demanded.

Three years earlier on December 13, 1841, the Directors and Superintendent of the Ohio Lunatic Asylum presented their third annual report on the condition of the institution to the Fortieth General Assembly.  The Superintendent was listed as William M. Awl, M.D., with the following listed as directors:  Samuel Parsons, M.D.; Colonel Samuel Spangler; Adin G. Hibbs, Esquire; N.H. Swayne, Esquire; and Dr. David L. McGugin. Three others were listed along with the Superintendent and Directors, these being Dr. Samuel M. Smith, M.D. (Assistant Physician), George S. Fullerton (Steward), and Mrs. C.W. Atcherson (Matron).

In Document No. 14, under “Labor and Employment,” the expression was used with the meaning it has today.

And here is the amount of this labor, as estimated by a committee of themselves, which we should think exceedingly moderate, if we had to foot the bill:  “As near as can be calculated, three acres of ground on the east half of lot, in front of L.A., have been filled up to the average depth of nine inches, amounting to 3,637 cubic yards.  And taking into consideration the extra labor of leveling the same, together with leveling the same, together with leveling the ground from whence the earth was taken, it should probably be estimated at sixteen cents per yard, which will amount to five hundred eighty one dollars and ninety two cents.”

It showed up in Part I of Volume XII of the Gales & Seaton’s Register “Debates In Congress.”  The debate in question was dated March 17, 1836 and dealt with a Land Bill put forth in the Senate.  The Senate was urged to proceed with a Bill to appropriate, for a limited time, the proceeds from the sale of public lands.  The Bill was not popular with everyone, and the issue was hotly debated.  The idiom appeared here:

As might be expected, after making a decision against these claimants, the Judiciary of Virginia deemed it expedient, inasmuch as the United States, and not Virginia would ultimately be obliged to foot the bill, to reverse that decision, and the claimants, and children and heirs of claimants, come in forty years after the service was performed, and obtain scrip for incredible quantities of public lands; from four to six, and, I believe as high as ten, thousand acres to each person.

Sliding back to the winter of 1818, is the book by American lawyer, Estwick Evans (1787 – 1866) titled, “A Pedestrious Tour of Four Thousand Miles Through The Western States and Territories.”  The book claimed to be “interspersed with brief reflections upon a great variety of topics: Religious, moral, political, sentimental, etc., etc.”  The tome was printed by Joseph E. Spear of Concord, New Hampshire in 1819.  According to Payton R. Freeman, Clerk for the District of New Hampshire, the book was deposited in the Office of the District of New Hampshire on December 10, 1818 (the forty-third year of the Independence of the United States of America).  It was resubmitted on January 18, 1819 to correct typographical and other errors in the preceding work that Peyton r. Freeman stated were “few and inconsiderable” and “not deemed worth while to notice them.”  On page 183 of this book, the following is found:

When I arrived at Buffalo, I had travelled twenty-four miles, without meeting any habitation, excepting a very few scattering log huts.  Some of these were destitute of provisions; and at others of them a piece of bread, and a drink of water cost me two York shillings.  Not far from this place, my dogs, knowing no law but that of nature, and having forgotten my lecture to them upon theft, helped themselves to the first repast presented, leaving their master to foot their bills.  According to the phraseology of our Grand Juries, they very modestly “took, stole, and carried away” a piece of beef of the weight of three pounds, with an intention to convert the same to their own use.

Foot, meaning to add up and set the sum at the bottom of a column, is attested to in the late 15th century.  In “Wardrobe Accounts of Edward IV: Office of the Stable and Gifts Disbursed” for 1480, the meaning of foot referring to a total sum is found.

Velvet, xxxij yerdes grene and blac; bokeram longe, xij yerdes*
*Here follows in the MS a general inventory of all the articles mentioned in the preceding pages, entitled “The foote of the deliveree of stuff.”

Because the foote was the total sum owed for what was delivered and registered in the Wardrobe Accounts of Edward IV in 1480, the spirit of footing the bill (paying what was owed) is found in this accounting.

What this means is that as early as 1480, footing meant to add up a column of numbers to arrive at the final sum in reference to monies owed to a merchant.  Footing the bill was to confirm the exact amount owed to another with the intent of paying said outstanding amount.

Undoubtedly, the idiom appeared in print sometime between the accounting of Edward IV’s wardrobe accounts and Estwick Evans’ unfortunate incident with his dogs.  Idiomation suspects a published version of this idiom can be found dating back to before Estwick Evans’ book in 1818. It just hasn’t been uncovered to date.

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