Think on one’s feet

Think on one’s feet 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 or metaphors, 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, which may use slang words, or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, 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. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. 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 think on one’s feet, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To think on one’s feet means to be able to think quickly, to respond immediately, or to come to a good solution without a long period of deliberation. The idea is that one is agile in his ability to think and act. The idea behind think on one’s feet may come from the image of someone speaking before an audience, especially if one is fielding questions or debating an opposing viewpoint. Today, think on one’s feet may refer to public speaking, or it may refer to someone who can respond quickly to changing circumstances. Think on one’s feet came into use sometime around 1900. Related phrases are thinks on one’s feet, thought on one’s feet, thinking on one’s feet.


When Mount St. Mary’s University announced it would send students home and move classes online as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, Nick Hutchings had to think on his feet of how he would continue teaching his sculpture class. (The Frederick News-Post)

Later in the week, the net closes in on Cameron and he’s forced to think on his feet as Zav goes to extreme lengths to prove that Cameron can’t be trusted. (The Sun)

“I was privileged to learn this field in one of the fasted growing markets in the South, and because of that I am able to think on my feet and negotiate through hard deals,” Blank said. (The Newport News Times)

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