It’s not “Foot Petal” or “Pressure Foot”

Yet another installation of my favorite misused/misheard words, or in the vernacular, “get off my lawn!”

I’d worry that my linguist friends would be correct, and these two misheard and misused words, “foot petal”, and “pressure foot”, would simply be the result of the language changing, and I would be required to accept that fact. They would say that it meant that these words were now the correct usage, and damn the confusion they bring to the conversation. But these misheard words have been misheard for at least 30 years now, while the sewing machine owner’s manuals still call these items by their proper names: “foot pedal” and “presser foot.” This proves that at least these misheard words are not correct, no matter how many people use them.

My gripe with misheard words becoming the correct usage is that they only serve to confuse things. It also makes it impossible to figure out what a word might mean by dissecting it. “Foot petal” has nothing to do with flowers, or plants of any nature. If I did not already sew, and did not already know the similar-sounding, correct name of the item in question, I’d have no idea what this object was. Maybe it’s a petal-shaped thing one attaches to the pressure foot for some arcane reason? I’d never come to the conclusion that this was the thing that makes the sewing machine “go,” for that would be a foot pedal, like the thing in the car that makes it go. You know: The gas pedal. Why is it never a “gas petal” but it’s often “foot petal”? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Which brings me next to “pressure foot”. While it’s a lot more reasonable than “gas petal,” in that some do actually apply some pressure to the fabric, the correct term is “presser foot”. It presses on the fabric. The point of a presser foot is to keep the fabric from moving up and down with the needle, not to smash the fabric into the feed dogs. That sort of thing can have a bad result for fine fabrics by leaving unwanted marks. So we can see that pressure is not the operating factor. Some presser feet even float just above the fabric to allow for free-motion sewing. There is no pressure involved at all. The foot, does however, press the fabric off the needle.

What’s the difference? We live in an increasingly Google world. If you want more pressure feet for your machine, you won’t find any. You will, however, find ton of presser feet. Likewise, you will find no foot petals, but plenty of foot pedals. Okay, you will actually find Foot Petals, but those are cushions for women’s shoes. They won’t work on your sewing machine. But really, using the correct word is very simply, correct. It will also impress your friendly neighborhood sewing machine technician, and who would not want to do that?


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