Footloose and Fancy-Free is an idiomatic expression, meaning someone is free.
It was created through the combination of two separate phrases, both referring to the liberty of a free individual. “Footloose” is used to express that one’s feet are not bound and is free to go anywhere they please, while “Fancy-Free” is also expressing a similar thought, referring to someone who is free to do as they fancy.
“Footloose and Fancy-Free” has been used primarily in American English and has been around since the turn of the 1900s. Today, it is still widely used as an idiomatic expression, especially for men and women who have just went through a divorce.
Although the exact origin of “Footloose and Fancy-Free” is not known, it was created through the combination of two phrases that have seen long use for expressing freedom.
The term “Footloose” is said to have its roots in the 1690s, in a time, when physical restraints such as the iconic ball and chain, as well as a wide variety of other shackles were still massively prevalent across the globe, through either slavery or prisons. In this context, “Footloose” was used to refer to the state where one’s feet were unbound from their shackles and left loose. It wasn’t until the 1800s, that the term’s meaning shifted to a more idiomatic one, being synonymous to various liberties.
“Fancy-Free” is an expression with concrete evidence as to its origins. It was first published in the work of William Shakespeare, titled A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where “Fancy-Free” was used to describe a character as “Free from the power of love.” By the 1800s, the meaning of “Fancy-Free” also shifted into the direction of general freedom.
The two expressions began to fuse in the United States, starting in the 1880s. By the turn of the 1900s, “Footloose and Fancy-Free” was already a well-established expression in America.
In the beginning, “Footloose and Fancy-Free” was almost exclusively used for single men only, describing them as free from the shackles of marriage.
However, following the cultural revolution of the 1960s, the common perception of divorce began to change. The emancipation of women, as well as the freedom of sexuality, all contributed to the popularity of the expression. By the 1980s, “Footloose and Fancy-Free” was an expression of both genders, being endorsed not only by single or divorced men, but women as well, who perceived themselves as liberated from the yokes of marriage.
Today, “Footloose and Fancy-Free” is still a popular expression, especially in the United States.
It appeared in a wide variety of media, which helped popularize it among English speakers worldwide. This includes the 1935 song by The Dorsey Brothers, titled “Footloose and Fancy-Free.” The song was a massive success in its era, with countless covers and reinterpretations having been released in the decades since its initial debut, including the 1977 album of Rod Stewart. The expression can also be encountered in movies, TV series, as well as books.
Overall, “Footloose and Fancy-Free” is an idiom with an outstanding history. It began as a Shakespearean expression of an immunity to romance, turning into an idiom of freedom, only to return to its roots, with an added meaning, expressing freedom from a relationship.