Step on your toes?

中国日报网 2013-11-01 11:38



Step on your toes?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: He’s a nice boy and all that but he may say things that step on your toes.

My comments:

“Step on your toes” is a metaphor because, apparently, other people’s words can’t fall on your toes – sometimes they even fall on deaf ears, but that’s neither here nor there.

Their feet may fall on your toes inadvertently – when they try to walk by in front of you while you’re queuing for a movie ticket, waiting for a bus or something like that.

In one of these cases, you probably will let out and “ouch” because it can be excruciatingly painful when someone actually do that.

Things they say, on the other hand, cannot hurt. I mean, not like that. Not physically.

But they can hurt you emotionally – and not a bit less painfully – and that’s where we’re at.

To paraphrase our top example: He’s nice boy on the whole but he’s not always careful with what he says – his (poor) choice of words may upset people once in a while.

“Stepping on someone’s toes” is an American idiom. If you analyze the situation, people who step on our toes are trying to land their feet on the ground where we’re standing. Therefore, they’re invading our land, encroaching on our territories, and metaphorically intruding on our privacy, upon our responsibilities or into sphere of influence in general. And that kind of behavior leads to conflict if we stand our ground, so to speak. It can bring us as much pain as if they really step on our toes while queuing up for a ticket in the cinema.

Actually, it may be much worse because being actually stepped on gives us only a fleeting pain. Things they say? That’s different. If someone’s words step on our toes, they can hurt our feelings real bad – and that kind of pain may last for ever.

Well, if we allow that kind of hurt feelings to last for ever then we probably don’t deserve any better but that’s another matter entirely. Here, I’m exaggerating merely to illustrate the point – hurt feelings take longer to heal up.

Anyways, I think you’ve got the point.

Here are media examples of situations where someone steps on other people’s toes, hurting them one way or another:

1. Whether you’re on the swim team in the relay or you’re running a deal in real estate, no one wants to get disqualified!

Automatic DQ, jerk. What’d you do that for? You just got the whole team disqualified!

Can you relate to this at all? Has anyone ever stepped on your toes in a contract or do you feel like maybe you stepped out of line and did something that you weren’t supposed to do? Maybe you didn’t get caught, but hey... the fact of the matter is, you should have stayed in your own lane. Whether it is swimming, running a relay or writing a real estate contract there are certain times when the baton needs to be passed, and that is when it is the other person’s time to do what they are best at.

In swimming, you want that rockin’ free-styler to get in there after the back-stroker has done their thing- because if your free-styler starts to back-stroke, this is no bueno- automatic DQ! If it is the relay, pass the baton to the dude that you know is going to sprint you to the finish line in record time and win your team the ultimate prize. But if you forget to pass the baton, you can get DQ’d. In real estate, passing the baton means talking about the law when you should have directed your client to an attorney- hello, super DQ, as in you can get in some serious trouble!

- How to stay in your own lane,, February 5, 2012.

2. A Brooklyn clubgoer went berserk Monday and sprayed a crowd with bullets, killing one man and injuring a woman.

“They killed my son for no reason,” sobbed Donna Rayside, mother of 31-year-old victim Dustin Yeates.

Rayside said she was told by cops her son was killed outside Club Tracks in East Flatbush because the gunman was angry somebody “stepped on their toes.”

Partygoers at the Ralph Ave. club were ushered outside by staffers about 2:10 a.m. after an unruly fight erupted, cops said.

As patrons poured onto the sidewalk, gunfire rang out.

- Clubgoer sprays crowd with bullets, killing one man, NYDailyNews, May 27, 2013.

3. Two extraordinary mavericks changed the face of jazz in the 1940s. Saxophonist Charlie Parker changed the way it was played and entrepreneur Norman Granz changed the way it was sold. Parker was the music revolutionary who ushered in a new era of jazz called bebop, while Granz took jazz out of the smoky jazz clubs and dives and put it on to the concert stage.

This was a time when America was in ferment: troops were returning from the battle zones of the second world war, many of them black and well aware that they had been putting themselves in harm's way for the kind of freedoms they were routinely denied at home. Norman Granz, born to a family of Ukrainian immigrants in Los Angeles and brought up in a mixed neighbourhood, saw and experienced first hand the social realities of the time, especially as he was dating the black singer Marie Bryant.

Granz had become a jazz fan after hearing the Coleman Hawkins recording of Body and Soul and believed that jazz could be used as a means of breaking down racial segregation, and he was quite open in his objectives: to make money, to combat racial prejudice and to present good jazz.

Many jazz clubs at the time played to segregated audiences, but when Granz, an ex-marine standing at more than 6ft tall who kept himself in fine physical shape (he was a talented tennis player), began promoting his own small-scale concerts, he demanded integrated audiences and good rates of pay for the musicians.

In 1944 he took the ambitious step of arranging a promotion at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Borrowing money to record the show, a novel idea of presenting the spontaneity of a “jam session” for mass audiences, the event turned out to be a sellout and the concept of “Jazz at the Philharmonic” (JATP) was born. More monthly concerts followed, which were in turn recorded, and then the show went out on the road. By 1946, the now annual JATP tour included some of the biggest names in jazz, including Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Rich, Lester Young and Billie Holiday.

At the time both Parker and Holiday were heroin addicts (and Holiday also an alcoholic), but when asked if he encountered behavioural problems from them he replied, simply, “No, they were fine, always very polite, but you don’t understand – I worked for years with Buddy Rich”. It was an unexpected response – the virtuoso drummer Rich was no addict, but he had a mercurial temper and a razor-sharp wit (he once did a stint as a standup comic) and had clearly got under the skin of Granz, who was not one to easily forgive a slight.

In 1955 Granz formed Verve Records to consolidate his recording activities under one label and promote one artist in particular – Ella Fitzgerald. The label got off to a flying start with Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook, one of the best-selling albums of 1956, and quickly became one of the best-known labels for both jazz and popular music. Its history has just been documented by Richard Havers in the impressive Verve: The Sound of America, which includes more than 1,000 photos – many never previously published. Under Granz’s stewardship Fitzgerald became one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, but she was also the bargaining chip he used to break down racial segregation at some of the biggest venues in the States – “You want Ella? It’s integrated audiences or no deal!”

A self-made man, Granz emerged in the 1950s as a figure about whom no one in the jazz world was neutral. Clearly he had to step on a few toes, but while Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and saxophonist Benny Carter revered him, others loathed him. The singer Mel Tormé, who recorded for Granz several times and made at least one classic under his direction, Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley, didn’t have a good word to say about him, considering him an “ignoramus”.

Yet it was thanks to Granz that jazz was beginning to shed its déclassé image and its stars were becoming recognised as true artists. What Granz had discovered was a reciprocity between box office and record sales that no one had imagined was possible – the albums leveraged the concerts and the concerts generated more live records and within a few years JATP was an American phenomenon and jazz a concert-hall attraction. Contrary to music-biz apocryphal stories, Granz did not rip off his musicians, black or white. The drummer Gene Krupa told jazz magazine Down Beat that in a two-week tour with Granz he earned the equivalent of playing two months in a jazz club, while the pianist Oscar Peterson said, “I think the predominant factor in his image is his honesty.”

- Verve Records and the man who made jazz the sound of America, The Observer, October 27, 2013.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)




















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