Hold someone’s feet to the fire

Hold someone’s feet to the fire is an idiom that has been in use for hundreds of years. We will examine the meaning of the idiom hold someone’s feet to the fire, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To hold someone’s feet to the fire means to pressure someone to do something, to hold someone accountable, to force someone to comply. The idiom hold someone’s feet to the fire is derived from the trial by ordeal used by the Inquisition during Medieval times. Quite literally, one’s feet were held to a fire or one was forced to walk barefoot over hot coals in order to extract a confession of wrongdoing. The assumption was that if someone were innocent, God would protect him or her from harm in a miraculous fashion. Today, the term hold someone’s feet to the fire is often used in situations where someone is reluctant to take responsibility or perform a necessary action. Related expressions are holds someone’s feet to the fire, held someone’s feet to the fire, holding someone’s feet to the fire.

Examples

That said, I do worry that if Biden becomes president he will compromise too easily; progressives will have to hold his feet to the fire, and make sure that incrementalism doesn’t turn into preemptive surrender. (The Antelope Valley Press)

Wallace astutely and meticulously interviewed Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and held his feet to the fire on the question of whether the president lied about the two hush-money felonies that authorities in the Southern District of New York have said that Trump directed. (USA Today)

The clearest one was on Tuesday when Warren called Bloomberg an “egomaniac” on Twitter and challenged her opponents to hold his feet to the fire. (The Seattle Times)