Not only babies (and acrobats) can put their foot in their mouth.
We can, too. I can and I do.
Foot in mouth is an old idiom, originating from the foot-in-mouth disease (a deadly virus found in cattle), and dating back to the 1800s. The idiom refers to humans whose words get them in trouble.
It’s when you say something stupid, insulting, or hurtful that you regret. You wish you hadn’t said it, but it’s too late to take it back.
I am not exactly gaffe-prone—my mom taught me tact painstakingly—but once in a while, even if I mean well, my words land in the wrong direction.
This one’s an example, which I wrote about in my book Circle of Compassion. Even after so many years, remembering the incident still turns me red.
I bumped into my old friend, Jim, in the busy lobby of a hotel. He was with a young boy about eight years old. “Hello, stranger!” he said, hugging me. “It's been, what, ten years? Meet my son Javis.”
“Hello, Javis! You look just as handsome as your dad. Where's your mom?”
“I don't know where my mom is, OKAY?” he said angrily, running away and disappearing through the crowd. His worried father quickly ran after him.
Aw, did I put my foot in my mouth! Red with embarrassment, I immediately called up a mutual friend and told her what happened.
“It's still all very hush-hush,” she said. “After their spectacular wedding which awed you, me, and all other 1,000 guests, Jim and Nieves were not exactly the ideal couple we all thought they were. In the States, even with all the luxury in the world in a huge house, the marriage didn't work out. But they stayed together till their son turned seven last year. Nieves left their conjugal home and was never heard from since. Now Jim and their son Javis are back in the Philippines—for good. And guess what . . .”
“Thanks,” I said, unwilling to hear more.
Foot in mouth is something we sometimes can’t avoid. But it is more than worth our while to think about words before we say them.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)