Reader Richard Raiswell, of Prince Edward Island, Canada, writes:
You don’t seem to have done “on the back foot”. This (I think) comes from cricket and refers to a defensive shot which also has some attacking merit. I have heard it creeping into use in US English recently.
Well, yes. You need only look at today’s Chicago Tribune to find it in a baseball article: “In Oakland, starter Travis Blackley tossed six solid innings while his offense scratched out enough runs to seize their fifth straight win and put the Rangers (93-68) on the back foot.”
Then there’s this, from an early September post on NewsBusters, a blog dedicated to “exposing & combating liberal media bias”: “New York Times campaign reporter Ashley Parker tried to put Mitt Romney on the back foot from the opening sentence of her article on his speech to the National Guard convention in Reno.”
But in the Times itself, you have to go back to March 2011 to find a non-sporting, non-direct-quote back foot: “Activist investors generally prefer to be on the attack. So it’s odd to see them on the back foot, fighting to preserve an important arrow in their quiver.”
Interesting that these uses don’t appear to conform with Richard’s notion that the phrase suggests a ploy that “has some attacking merit.” I am sure that readers will weigh in with their thoughts on this matter. As for NOOB status, it appears that on the back foot is only on the radar at this point. Time will tell if it has (sorry) legs.