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Speak good English

BY: Hannah A Amoah

Last week we began looking at the fact that in English sometimes idiomatic expressions do not follow the normal principles that govern the language.

In other words, some of these idiomatic expressions may appear incorrect in their composition because they  expressions do not go according to the usual principles we know or are used to.But, as we learnt last week, idiomatic expressions are what they are: fixed in their meaning and their composition and we use them as they are --- no more, no less.
If you try to 'correct' an idiomatic expression that seems 'incorrect' to you in its composition, you end up rather with an unknown expression. Last week, I gave four sentences which contained idiomatic expressions which appeared to be 'incorrect'.
Let's look at those sentences and see what appears to be 'incorrect' in each of them and why they are, after all, not 'incorrect'.
The first sentence is:
In all situations, put your best foot forward.
The idiomatic expression in the sentence is 'put your best foot forward', and it is correct the way it is composed --- put your best foot forward.
Many people think the expression 'put your best foot forward' is incorrect because a person has only two feet and, therefore, going by the principle of comparison of adjectives, which says we use the comparative degree when comparing only two things, not the superlative degree, which is used when comparing three or more things, we should have 'put your better foot forward', as we have in:
the younger twin
the older twin
the taller twin
the more handsome twin
This argument is valid to an extent, and, indeed, we can correctly write or say:put your better foot forward.
But that is not idiomatic because it does not convey the same meaning as the idiomatic:
put your best foot forward.
The idiomatic expression 'put your best foot forward' means you should put up the best of behaviours, attitudes, etc, and that meaning is fixed.
But if, for instance, I'm injured in one foot and the doctor tells me:
Whenever you want to take a few steps, put your better foot forward,
 that isn't idiomatic --- he is only saying that I must lead with the foot that is not injured, so that I don't fall down.
It has nothing to do with good behaviour or attitude at all.
So, you see, if we try to 'correct' the idiomatic 'put your best foot forward' into 'put your better foot forward' we change the meaning completely.
(To be continued.)