keep somebody on their toes

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  • Katey

    Senior Member
    English - US
    To keep somebody on their toes is to keep them alert. If somebody keeps me on my toes, it means I have to really concentrate and be clever to respond properly.
     

    Old Novice

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I've got it!
    By the way, "keep somebody on their toes" is on purpose or NOT on purpose?

    Thanks!
    It can be either way. Sometimes a person (for example, a boss) consciously tries to keep someone on their toes. Other times, events -- driving during a snowstorm, for example -- force people to be on their toes.
     

    geminisi

    New Member
    Czech Republic, Czech language
    Hi, can I have a question?
    How would you describe a phrase: to keep somebody on one´s toes?
    Thanks!

    <<Please do not abbreviate somebody.>>
     

    mai369

    Member
    Argentina, Spanish
    Geminisi, I think we're not supposed to abbreviate when posting a thread. :S (just read the whole posting guide before posting my first thread :p)

    Anyway, I'm not a native, so I googled it, and I found the same topic under the thread "keep somebody on their toes" in this same forum. You should be able to find it by looking it up on google (I can't post links yet :( )

    Hope this helps.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Hello,

    Something or somebody that keeps you on your toes forces you to continue directing all your attention and energy to what you are doing.

    p.s. I'm not a native speaker:)
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    Some examples of usage:

    My new boss keeps us on our toes; we hardly even have time for a coffee break.

    That teacher will keep you on your toes; she won't tolerate sloppy work, so make sure you check your spelling and grammar before you hand any work in to her.

    His wife keeps him on his toes; he's always cooking and cleaning and putting shelves up. She'd call him a lazybones if he didn't!
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    To me, "to keep a people on their toes" refers to quality of work, not quantity. It means to provide people with opportunities to practice their skills and to maintain their abilities. The "toes" metaphor I think refers to being poised to jump or to start running, not so much to doing lots of jumping or running.

    By the way, the pronoun after the "on" needs to refer to the same person mentioned just before the "on": to keep me on my toes, to keep one on one's toes, to keep someone on his/her/their toes.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    To me, "to keep a people on their toes" refers to quality of work, not quantity. It means to provide people with opportunities to practice their skills and to maintain their abilities. The "toes" metaphor I think refers to being poised to jump or to start running, not so much to doing lots of jumping or running.
    I agree with Forero. I use the term when I mean that someone causes you to you pay close attention to the quality of your work.

    In certain cases, I might say that someone who made you do a lot of physical work, "kept you on your feet". I would not say that they "kept you on your toes" unless they also paid close attention to details, for instance, that you might have missed.
     

    Willis

    Member
    U.S. - English
    Well, I say it actually means a little of both, and it's hard to seperate the two.

    To keep someone alert and ready for any situation by not keeping them idle, and constantly working, training and testing them.

    I think, technically, the phrase itself focuses more on work and training, but I think most, when they hear the phrase, naturally assume that the work is being done to create alertness and readiness.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    It's certainly a definition, propounded by a teacher at a college in Chester.
    I'm sorry. I wasn't clear. My point wasn't that this was the only plausible use of the term, but that variations on usage may not be best explained as national differences. It is likely that some AE speakers also give it the broader meaning.

    I'll try to keep on my toes next time I post.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The general sense I get from this phrase is that if Bill is said to be keeping his team on their toes he is managing them in such a way that they meet expectations in all senses:
    - delivering the required quality of work;
    - delivering the required quantity of work;
    - able to respond effectively to changing requirements.

    It is a positive comment on Bill's style and relationship with his team, and on Bill's team itself.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    ... The "toes" metaphor I think refers to being poised to jump or to start running, not so much to doing lots of jumping or running...
    That is how I always understood it; sprinting specifically.

    When the starter at a sprint meet says:

    "On your mark" [foot placed exactly at the starting line]

    "Get Set" [Sprinters at that point raise up upon the "balls of their feet"

    "Go" (or starter's gun fires) [The race commences].


    So "on your toes", which is really on the "balls of your feet" was the very last thing you did in preparation for an all out sprint.

    So "on your toes" means you are at the ready to react quickly.
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    I'm sorry. I wasn't clear. My point wasn't that this was the only plausible use of the term, but that variations on usage may not be best explained as national differences. It is likely that some AE speakers also give it the broader meaning.

    I'll try to keep on my toes next time I post.
    Thanks for clarifying, Cagey. Yes, you keep on your toes.:D
     

    Vanest

    Senior Member
    Ecuadorian Spanish - Canadian English
    Hello everyone,

    I think I understand the phrase now, but if somebody who is helping you (to find a job for example) tells you "you certainly keep me on my toes", is that good or bad? Is the person trying to tell you you are being annoying or too demanding?

    Thank you!

    Vanest
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'd take "you keep me on my toes" as primarily a compliment: you're good, you're possibly as good as I am, the fact that you exist means I have to keep working hard to keep my place.

    But there's also a hint of negativity in it: I don't like the fact that you're good, you're possibly as good as I am, the fact that you exist means I have to keep working hard to keep my place.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    hello,
    does this sentence make sence? "You always keep my thinking, on my toes."


    thanks
    I understand what you are saying but your construction is faulty.

    Try something like this:

    You always keep me thinking; you keep me on my toes.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I think an understanding of the origin of the phrase is needed here. It has to do with boxing. The "in the blocks" image is okay, but if you keep on your toes as described in the comparison, you stay at the starting blocks while someone else is winning the race.

    The word keep here indicates a continuous state of alertness and action. If you are kept on your toes, you not only await your opponent's moves alertly, you are in a position to respond to them-- or more important, preempt them.

    To understand the expression, imagine not just a boxer but a winning boxer-- being on one's toes entails a lot of motion, so I don't think passive "alertness" is quite adequate a definition. A person who is on his toes gets out ahead of a problem, and can stop it before it even arises.

    The comment about getting caught flat-footed was apt. Also, a losing boxer is said to be "on his heels." So is someone who is "reeling" from circumstances that have gotten beyond his control-- probably because he didn't keep on his toes.
     

    redgiant

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Some posters is saying that this phrase means "ready to react" and "remain alert". Does "Keep your eyes on the opponent" not convey the sense of "poised to react" in "Keep somebody on their toes"?
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Some posters is saying that this phrase means "ready to react" and "remain alert". Does "Keep your eyes on the opponent" not convey the sense of "poised to react" in "Keep somebody on their toes"?
    Though they might be used in the same context, they mean different things.

    "Keep your eyes on the opponent" means to be watchful for anything he might do.
    "Keep on your toes" means to be ready to do something your self, whenever it needs to be done. It may include being watchful and alert, but it focuses on the ability to act.
     
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