Get Your Foot in the Door, and other useful idioms

Get your foot in the door, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot afterwards! Idioms, or expressions that don’t mean literally what the words say, are part of everyday speech in America. To avoid misunderstandings, it is important to improve your spoken English by mastering as many idioms as possible. Today’s expressions all use the word foot, and each idiom is highlighted in the story. Try and figure out as many of the expressions as you can as you read the story about a man named Steve getting advice from a friend about an upcoming interview.

Steve has wanted to work for the Global Electronics company for years. He would love to design and build widgets, but has no experience in the field. Until now, he couldn’t figure out how to get his foot in the door, but now he has the perfect contact.

John has been working there for the past 3 years in HR, and offered to schedule an interview for Steve for a new position. John sympathizes with Steve, as he remembers well how he felt before he was hired. Now the shoe is on the other foot and he has a chance to help out a friend.

“You need to put your best foot forward,” John told Steve. “There are a lot of people interviewing for this position, and the competition is tough. If you get off on the wrong foot with the boss, you probably won’t have a chance at the job.

The last guy we interviewed shot himself in the foot, bragging about how he had cheated his previous employer and no one found out. I think you’ll do fine, though. You are very motivated and articulate; I don’t think you’ll put your foot in your mouth.

If you do well in the first interview, the senior vice president will want to take you out for lunch to get to know you better. He looks like he has one foot in the grave, but he still holds most of the decision-making power. Just relax and enjoy yourself; he won’t set foot in the company cafeteria, so he will take you to a nice restaurant and the company will foot the bill. I know you’re nervous because you haven’t done this type of work before, but once you get your feet wet, you’ll do great.”

How did you do? Check yourself below with the list of definitions for each idiom.

  • Get his foot in the door — get started toward a goal; take the initial step to do something bigger
    • origin: Traveling salesmen used to go door- to door to sell their goods. They would put their foot in the door so the owner couldn’t shut it and would have to listen to their sales pitch and, hopefully, buy something.
  • Shoe is on the other foot — the situation is reversed, so the person understands a different perspective
    • origin: Years ago, shoes used to be made exactly the same for each foot, but later they were made specifically for each foot. Then, it was uncomfortable to wear one shoe on the other foot. So, if you wore your shoe on the other foot, you would notice how different it felt .
  • Put your best foot forward — make a great first impression; begin with enthusiasm
  • Get off on the wrong foot — start poorly, make a bad impression, start a relationship with a mistake
  • Shoot himself in the foot — accidentally do something to harm your career or advancement
    • origin: literally, accidentally shooting oneself in the foot, causing temporary or permanent damage
  • Put your foot in your mouth — say something foolish or embarrassing
    • origin: thought to come from foot and mouth disease, which causes embarrassing red spots and sores all over the mouth
  • One foot in the grave — near death
  • Set foot in — enter
  • Foot the bill — pay whatever money is due
    • origin: Footing used to mean adding up figures in a list and placing a total at the foot of the column. Years ago, it was common practice to ask a customer to foot the bill (check the arithmetic) as a polite way of saying ‘pay the bill’. Over time, it became an accepted expression simply meaning to pay the bill.
  • Get your feet wet — try something new; get some experience working
    • origin: Someone who is afraid to swim will start by getting their feet wet, taking a step towards the new experience of getting all the way in the water and swimming

Did you get most of them right? Then you got off on the right foot and will soon have the world at your feet (be very successful)!