Step on someone’s toes

Step on someone’s toes is an idiom with an uncertain origin. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom step on someone’s toes, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To step on someone’s toes means to offend them, especially offending them by encroaching on their sphere of influence. To step on someone’s toes means to do something that is their responsibility, to seize their power or authority. The idiom step on someone’s toes has been in use since at least the mid-1800s, and is found in Anthony Trollope’s novel The Belton Estate, published in 1866: “‘But you mustn’t offend my father.’—‘I won’t tread on his toes.’” Related phrase are steps on someone’s toes, stepped on someone’s toes, stepping on someone’s toes.


Nelson said the legislature needs to “understand (the) avenue of approach that he’s taking and ensure that we are working cohesively together so that we don’t step on his toes, and he doesn’t step on our toes, either.” (The Guam Daily Post)

I liked him and respected him and I did not want to step on his toes. (South Coast Today)

If I can get an opportunity where no one will interfere and keep stepping on my toes, it’s just a matter of time. (Newsweek)

“Forgive me if I have stepped on your toes and I have forgiven everyone who stepped on my toes.” (The Daily Post Nigeria)

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