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German Idioms and Expressions about Feet and Shoes

Slipping something in someone else’s shoes

This German idiom is an English equivalent to “putting the blame on someone else”. The idiom dates back to the Middle Ages. In those days journeymen travelled the country, often spending the night in communal dormitories. Now and again a journeymen would be tempted to steal something. To avoid getting caught when the house was searched, he would slip the stolen property into the boots of one of his companions. This would mean that suspicion did not fall on him but on someone else.

Where does the shoe pinch?

This expression was already used in antiquity. Paulus Aemilius was asked reproachfully by his friends why he had chosen to divorce his beautiful, faithful wife. In response, Paulus Aemilius pointed to his new shoes and explained that his shoes were very beautiful, but that no one but him could know where the shoe pinched.

Getting up with the wrong foot

This is another German expression, which has its origins in farming communities. The story is that farmers who got up very early in the morning would slip on their clogs while still half asleep. If a farmer got up with the wrong foot and slid it into the wrong clog, i.e. slipped his left foot into the right-foot clog, he might twist his ankle and his foot would hurt for the rest of the day. In English, the expression which conveys the same idea is “getting up on the wrong side of bed”, i.e. starting the day badly.

Slipper hero

This is yet another curious but amusing German expression. In former times feet and shoes were good indicators of social status and served as symbols of power. Today, for example, hunters still place a foot on the animal they have shot to indicate their dominance and superiority. In former times women would generally remain home to keep house, and they therefore always wore slippers. If their husband had no authority at home, he was ironically considered to be under his wife’s slipper and was referred to as a slipper hero. The English term is “henpecked husband”.

On free feet

The German expression “to be on free feet” is a legal term. The term was frequently used in the past and is still in use today. It means that the person in question is at liberty, having either been released from jail or is still at large. The “free foot” originally referred to the fact the feet of someone who was set free were no longer shackled as they would be if he were a prisoner.

Phrases about shoes. Solidus sneaker

Get cold feet

This expression dates back to the games of chance played in earlier times. At those days, playing cards for money was prohibited, and gamblers therefore met up to gamble in dark cellars which were usually very cold. If a player’s cards were poor, he would use the cold as an excuse to exit the game. And that is why “getting cold feet” became an expression for trying to evade a specific situation.

Follow in the footsteps

This expression goes back to the New Testament. The First Epistle of Peter contains the lines “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his footsteps.” Many Asian temples contain large footprints of Buddha, which are viewed as visual injunctions to follow in his footsteps.