Push someone’s buttons

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Push someone’s buttons is an American idiom that first appeared in the 1920s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will examine the definition of push someone’s buttons, where the term came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To push someone’s buttons means to do something that results in an immediate reaction from someone, to do or say something that arouses an instantaneous and usually emotional reaction. The term to push someone’s buttons first appeared in the United States during the 1920s. At this time, many home appliances were invented that needed merely a push of the button to do a job. Previous to the home appliance revolution in the 1920s, household chores were difficult and cumbersome. The idea of an immediate response with a simple press of a button gave rise to the idiom to push someone’s buttons, sometimes expressed as to press someone’s buttons. A corollary is the admonishment, don’t push my buttons. Pushing someone’s buttons usually carries a negative connotation, though it is sometimes used to mean to arouse someone’s sexual interest.


They know how to push my buttons but it’s gone beyond that, to the point where it is so offensive as a woman. (The Inquisitr)

“I find myself physically and mentally no longer able to function as Clallam County’s public ATM, where powerful people get to push my buttons until I cry uncle and I spit out the money regardless of my opinion as to whether such disbursements are ‘according to law,’ consistent with my oath of office and fiduciary responsibilities.” (The Peninsula Daily News)

During an argument 10 days before her death, Robinson had dragged her by the hair into his caravan, held a gun to her head and told her: “Don’t push my buttons.” (The Herald Sun)