Today, if someone is “pussyfooting around”, they’re either walking stealthily, or proceeding with caution. Maybe they’re even figuratively tiptoeing around a topic.
|Faraday "pussyfooting" on the counter - |
perhaps he knows he should not be there?
The verb “pussyfooting” as we know it today seems to have surfaced in print back in 1903, in the Atlanta Constitution where a columnist wrote: “Vice President Charles Warren Fairbanks is pussy-footing it around Washington.”
A related reference surfaced a bit prior to that, in November of 1893 as an article in Scribner’s Magazine referenced “…men who were beginning to walk pussy-footed and shy at shadows.”
But what if we told you it had an entirely different meaning over the pond?
The website Word Origins suggests that the use of the word is unflattering and pejorative. And in truth, whenever we’ve heard it, the word is usually delivered with a bit of scorn: “stop pussyfooting around!”
But what we didn’t know was that this could mean, “stop being a teetotaler!”
It all goes back to Indian Territory Oklahoma in the early 1900’s – and a man by the name of William E. Johnson. Johnson, a renowned teetotaler, was apparently known for his silent walk.
|Evidently Maxwell is not a pussyfoot ;-)|
calling him “Pussyfoot” Johnson.
(Apparently he admitted to wearing rubber heels on his shoes…?)
Johnson made his way over the pond in 1916 to broaden the reach of his prohibitionist message. And it was there that “pussyfooting” came to be known as supporting the ban of alcohol.
Word Origins tells us,
“The English took the nickname and applied it as a derisive term for a prohibitionist or teetotaler.
A 23 July 1919 cartoon in Punch had this caption:
Gloomy Policeman. ‘You’ve had enough. Better go home.’
So now you know!
Oxford English Dictionary, pussy-footed, adj., 3rd Edition, Dec 2007, Oxford University Press, accessed 25 Dec 2008