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Pronounced /ˈjuːnɪpɪdəl/Help with pronunciation

This turned up in an online BBC story discussing the reasons for unipedal resting in flamingoes. Yes, it means standing on one leg. It isn’t in any of the dictionaries I’ve consulted but it’s clear from the evidence that it is a serious, if jargonistic, term of biologists and doctors, and is fairly common. For example, the unipedal test, in which a person is asked to try to stand on one leg for a few seconds, assesses how well elderly or infirm people can balance and their risk of accidental falls.

Flamingoes at rest, standing on one leg.
Definitely unipedal

My earliest example, a joke, appeared in the 1829 book Constantinople in 1828 by Charles MacFarlane. He wrote about the way in which women sat in Smyrna: “The ‘received position,’ even in company, is to sit with one leg on the sofa bent under them, and the other hanging over the edge.” A visiting Frenchman, “who saw, for the first time in his life, this unipedal exhibition” of a seated row of women, asked if all the women in the city had but the one leg.

A later appearance sounds funny but probably wasn't intended to be:

Original. Sensational. Amusing. Stewart H. Dare. The Unipedal, or One-Legged, Gymnast, and Thomas S. Dare, the Merry Gymnastic Clown, in their Wonderful and Mirthful Gymnastic Entertainments. Big success everywhere. Splendidly dressed, and the handsomest Apparatus in the country.

The Era, 11 Nov. 1877. This was a weekly newspaper about the theatre, actors and music hall. The advertisement was seeking engagements.

Another example is in Principles of Abnormal Psychology by Edmund Conklin of 1928, in which he refers not only to unipedal and bipedal foot actions but also wrote, “The last two actions involved the use of the hands in both unimanual and bimanual activities.” He could have written that the individuals sometimes used one hand and sometimes both, but this presumably wouldn’t have been scholarly enough.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 29 Aug. 2009

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 29 August 2009.