This foot was apparently added, rather than lost, in the translation. In fact, the Chinese characters on the sign in question, found by someone while hiking in China and posted at engrish.com, don’t say anything directly about feet. Part of the problem is that which is universal to all signs. Wording on signs is abbreviated.
Here is some vocabulary to take a look at before getting into the sentences and discussion:
險區 ㄒㄧㄢˇ ㄑㄩ dangerous area
觀景 ㄍㄨㄢ ㄐㄧㄥˇ to view scenery
注意 ㄓㄨˋ ㄧˋ to pay attention to
安全 ㄢ ㄑㄩㄢˊ safe, secure, safety
謹防 ㄐㄧㄣˇ ㄈㄤˊ to guard against, to beware of
失去 ㄕ ㄑㄩˋ to lose
掉了 ㄉㄧㄠˋ ㄌㄜ˙ to fall, to drop, to go missing
失足 ㄕ ㄗㄨˊ to lose one’s footing
落石 ㄌㄨㄛˋ ㄕˊ falling stone
穿行 ㄔㄨㄢ ㄒㄧㄥˊ to bore through, to go through
The sign says:
The literal translation of the Chinese characters on the sign is as follows:
(ㄒㄧㄢˇ)(ㄑㄩ)(ㄍㄨㄢ)(ㄐㄧㄥˇ) (ㄓㄨˋ ㄧˋ)(ㄢ ㄑㄩㄢˊ)
(xiǎn)(qū)(guān)(jǐng) (zhù yì)(ān quán)
(dangerous)(area)(to see or view)(scenery) (pay attention to)(safety)
My Chinese tutor says it is a two part statement. The first four characters are abbreviated and would probably be more clearly stated as
[(ㄨㄟ ㄒㄧㄢˇ)(ㄉㄜ˙)](ㄍㄨㄢ)(ㄐㄧㄥˇ)(ㄉㄧˋ ㄑㄩ)
[(wēi xiǎn)(de.)] (guān)(jǐng)(dì qū)
[(danger)(ous)] (to see)(scenery)(area/region/zone)
Dangerous view point
The second four characters are four very common words –
(ㄓㄨˋ ㄧˋ)(ㄢ ㄑㄩㄢˊ)
(zhù yì)(ān quán)
(to pay attention to) (secure complete/total)
Pay attention to (your) safety
To say “beware of losing your footing,” try this sentence instead:
(ㄒㄧㄠˇ ㄒㄧㄣ)(ㄅㄨˊ)(ㄧㄠˋ)(ㄕ ㄗㄨˊ)
(xiǎo xīn)(bú)(yào)(shī zú)
(to be careful)(not)(to want)(to lose one’s footing, to slip)
Be careful, you don’t want to lose your footing.
If you really DO need to warn people about a missing foot, you can say:
(ㄐㄧㄣˇ ㄈㄤˊ)(ㄕ ㄑㄩˋ)(ㄉㄜ˙)(ㄐㄧㄠˇ)
(jǐn fáng)(shī qù)(de.)(jiǎo)
(to guard against, to beware of)(to lose)(adjective marker)(foot)
Beware of the missing (or lost) foot.
(to guard against, to beware of)(to lose, to go missing)(emphasizes previous clause)(adjective marker)(foot)
Beware of the missing foot.
Here are two variations of a basic sentence talking about something more normal being lost:
(ㄨㄛˇ ㄉㄜ˙)(ㄆㄧˊ ㄅㄠ)(ㄉㄧㄠˋ)(ㄌㄜ˙)
(wǒ de.)(pí bāo)(diào)(le.)
(my)(purse, handbag, briefcase)(to lose, to go missing)(emphasize previous clause)
My purse is missing!
(ㄨㄛˇ ㄉㄜ˙)[(ㄜˋ ㄩˊ)(ㄆㄧˊ)](ㄆㄧˊ ㄅㄠ)(ㄉㄧㄠˋ)(ㄌㄜ˙)
(wǒ de.)[(è yú)(pí)](pí bāo)(diào)(le.)
(my)[(crocodile)(skin, leather)](purse, handbag, briefcase)(to lose, to go missing)(emphasize previous clause)
My crocodile leather purse is missing!
Part of the translation problem on the sign that started all of this is probably the nuanced difference between saying “be aware” and “beware.” To “be aware” simply means to pay attention, but it could be for anything from listening to what your mother says to paying attention while driving a car. To “beware” in English definitely implies danger is likely in a more extreme sense. It is the difference between one letter and one space.
Another issue is the difference between putting the “-ing” suffix on “foot” instead of “miss.” To miss one’s footing is not same as to be missing one’s foot. It is unusual to put the “-ing” on the noun instead of the verb, but in this case it is what needs to be done.
We had fun practicing sentences using 注意 ㄓㄨˋ ㄧˋ (zhù yì). It is apparently a phrase parents and teachers use a lot.
(zhù yì) (tīng)
(pay attention) (to listen)
(ㄓㄨˋ ㄧˋ)(ㄒㄧㄠˇ ㄒㄧㄣ)(ㄌㄨㄛˋ ㄕˊ)
(zhù yì)(xiǎo xīn)(lùo shí)
(pay attention)(be careful)(falling rock)
Be alert! Be careful of falling rock!
(ㄓㄨˋ ㄧˋ)(ㄐㄧㄠ ㄊㄨㄥ)
(zhù yì)(jiāo tōng)
Pay attention in traffic!
Or you can just use the common way to say be careful.
(ㄒㄧㄠˇ ㄒㄧㄣ)(ㄜˋ ㄩˊ)(ㄔㄨㄢ ㄒㄧㄥˊ)
(xiǎo xīn)(è yú)(chuān xíng)
(be careful)(crocodile)(to go through, crossing)
Be careful! Crocodile crossing!
Getting back to the original sign, you can see that nothing is mentioned at all about feet in the Chinese. As usual, the wording in Chinese is also chosen for balance in visual presentation, which may have been part of the problem with trying to translate it. The translator seems to have had some exposure to the turn of phrase in English of “losing one’s footing,” but without an adequate understanding of the different connotation of “missing one’s foot.” Trying to keep the words limited (and appealing the Chinese sense of visual balance) in English, plus adding the confusion of the concept of “losing footing,” appears to have NOT given the desired message in English. There is no nefarious Missing Foot marauding passersby.
Notes on helpful things I learned or was reminded of while writing these sentences:
❶ This combination of characters can be used as either a noun or adjective, but if as an adjective, the classic 的 (de.) is attached.
❷ This Chinese character is often seen as part of the word 全部 (quan2 bu4), meaning completely; but it can also be put in front of noun characters in combinations such as 全國 (quan2 guo3), meaning “whole country”, or 全球 (quan2 qiu2), meaning “whole globe or earth.”