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时间:2018-03-04 17:07来源:互联网 提供网友:nan   字体: [ ]

Stay on Your Toes!

Now, it’s time for the VOA Learning1 English program Words and Their Stories.

Each week, we explore the meaning of expressions in American English. We often take terms and examine them from head to toe -- looking at each and every detail -- making sure not to overlook2 anything.

Speaking of toes, let’s talk about them for a minute.

Like the rest of our feet, they spend all day stuck inside socks and shoes. This can’t be good for them. So, let’s take them out of our shoes, give them a chance to stretch, and talk about how we use them in every-day speech.

While listening to this program, you need to stay on your toes. We will give one example after another. So, you'll need to listen closely3 or you might miss one.

Staying or keeping on your toes not only means to pay close attention. It also means to be ready to act. For example, when trying something dangerous, you need to keep on your toes. You want to be ready for anything that may happen.

This expression comes from the fact that when you actually lift your heels and shift4 your weight to the balls of your feet and your toes, you are ready to jump into action!

Now, the phrase keeping on your toes is different from tiptoeing around. Your feet are in a similar position. All your weight is on the balls of your feet. But the two expressions have different purposes and meanings. In fact, they are opposites.

As we said, when you are on your toes, you are prepared to take action. But when standing5 on your tiptoes, you are not very balanced. You are either trying to make yourself taller to reach something or you are trying to walk very quietly.

So, in American English, to tiptoe around something means to avoid an issue or talking about something in an indirect6 way.

Here’s an example of this expression.

“At the community meeting, city officials tiptoed around the issue of violence in schools for too long. Parents came to the meeting to hear solutions and not evasive language.”

Now, toes are important when we walk. They help us keep our balance. But they are good at something else.

Imagine a person running up to a lake or the ocean to take a swim. Some brave people might just jump right in. They don’t care how cold the water is. Others may want to test the water temperature first. So, they put a toe in the water before jumping in.

There are other situations where you should put your toes in the water before jumping right in.

Before moving to a new city or perhaps starting a new job, you need to do some serious thinking. When some people start a job, they may want to jump right in. But others move more slowly so as to avoid any unnecessary risk. Unsure about how their abilities measure up in the workplace, they tiptoe around co-workers. Or they are careful to avoid politically divisive or touchy7 subjects.

Working in this way, new employees won't make anyone angry. They won't step on anyone's toes.

Now, when you actually step on someone’s toes, most people simply apologize and that will be that. But stepping on someone’s toes in the idiomatic8 sense is more serious. It means you have done something on purpose to offend9 someone else.

But stepping on a co-worker's toes is not the worst thing you can do. If you go toe-to-toe with someone – that can be much worse!

Well, actually, that depends.

Toe-to-toe has two meanings: to be in direct competition with someone or to fight with someone. So, going toe-to-toe with a co-worker in a friendly, but competitive10 way is fine. In fact, employees are often expected to compete with one another in the workplace. If you are sure in your abilities, you are not afraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone.

However, going toe-to-toe with a co-worker by having a fight or argument with them is not a good idea.

The company might fire one or both workers! At the very least going-toe-to-toe can create a difficult work environment. So, sometimes it's a good idea to toe the line when you start working a new job. Just follow the rules and do your best not to step on anyone's toes.

Some native English speakers think this expression starts with the verb “tow11,” meaning to pull. It's not hard to understand why. We often tow things with a line of rope. But in this expression, the word "toe" is spelled t-o-e -- not t-o-w.

Word historians12 have attempted to explain the origin of this expression. Some claim it comes from the sport of boxing. In the boxing ring, fighters are so close to each other that their toes seem to touch.

However, the one story that connects most closely with following the rules is from boating.

Some people say that in the 19th century, sailors faced punishment if they did not obey shipping13 rules. To prepare, crew members would stand in a line with their toes on a crack, or line, between the wooden boards that make up the deck14 of the ship.

And that’s Words and Their Stories for this week. Thanks for listening.

We hope you found these expressions useful. We avoided using them in stories that might make your toes curl15. After all, if you feel uneasy16 and uncomfortable, you probably won't come back for more.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

And I’m Anna Matteo.

Tiptoe by the window

By the window, that is where I'll be

Come tiptoe through the tulips with me

Oh, tiptoe by the garden

By the garden of the willow17 tree

Come tiptoe through the tulips with me …

Words in This Story

evasive – adj. not honest or direct

idiomatic – adj. an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own

fire – v. to dismiss18 from employment19

deck – n. a flat surface that forms the main outside floor of a boat or ship

curl – v. to twist or form (something) into a round or curved shape : to become curved or rounded


1 learning wpSzFe     
  • When you are learning to ride a bicycle,you often fall off.初学骑自行车时,常会从车上掉下来。
  • Learning languages isn't just a matter of remembering words.学习语言不仅仅是记些单词的事。
2 overlook AKKxw     
  • How could you overlook paying the rent?你怎么会忘了付房租?
  • It was a slight overlook on my part.这是我的一个小疏忽。
3 closely XwNzIh     
  • We shall follow closely the development of the situation.我们将密切注意形势的发展。
  • The two companies are closely tied up with each other.这两家公司之间有密切联系。
4 shift 4yAwt     
  • Lend me a hand to shift this box,will you?来帮一下忙,把这箱子搬开,好吗?
  • A sudden shift in the wind warned of the coming storm.风向的突然改变预示暴风雨来临。
5 standing 2hCzgo     
  • After the earthquake only a few houses were left standing.地震过后只有几幢房屋还立着。
  • They're standing out against any change in the law.他们坚决反对对法律做任何修改。
6 indirect V88xQ     
  • What he said was very indirect.他的话很婉转。
  • He gave only an indirect answer.他只作了间接的回答。
7 touchy PJfz6     
  • Be careful what you say because he's touchy.你说话小心,因为他容易生气。
  • He's a little touchy about his weight.他对自己的体重感到有点儿苦恼。
8 idiomatic ob8xN     
  • In our reading we should always be alert for idiomatic expressions.我们在阅读过程中应经常注意惯用法。
  • In his lecture,he bore down on the importance of idiomatic usage in a language.他在演讲中着重强调了语言中习惯用法的重要性。
9 offend nIBxd     
  • He took care never to offend his visitors.他小心谨慎,绝不得罪他的访客。
  • I think I never offend you.我想我从没有触犯过你。
10 competitive yOkz5     
  • Some kinds of business are competitive.有些商业是要竞争的。
  • These businessmen are both competitive and honourable.这些商人既有竞争性又很诚实。
11 tow gJNz5     
  • The broken-down car was taken in tow by a lorry.那辆坏了的车由一辆货车拖着。
  • Mrs Hayes went to the supermarket with her four little children in tow.海斯太太带着她的4个小孩到超市去了。
12 historians aa2dff49e1cda6eb8322970793b20183     
n.历史学家,史学工作者( historian的名词复数 )
  • Historians seem to have confused the chronology of these events. 历史学家好像把这些事件发生的年代顺序搞混了。
  • Historians have concurred with each other in this view. 历史学家在这个观点上已取得一致意见。
13 shipping WESyg     
  • We struck a bargain with an American shipping firm.我们和一家美国船运公司谈成了一笔生意。
  • There's a shipping charge of £5 added to the price.价格之外另加五英镑运输费。
14 deck bnIzQ     
  • Let's have a walk round the deck.我们去甲板上散步吧。
  • The sea wind swept over the deck.海风席卷过甲板。
15 curl FyFxi     
  • She put her hair in rollers to make it curl.她用卷发夹子把头发弄鬈曲。
  • Does her hair curl naturally?她的头发是天然鬈曲的吗?
16 uneasy 8kDwf     
  • He feels uneasy today.他今天心里感到不安。
  • She had an uneasy feeling that they were still following her.她有一种他们仍在跟踪她的不安感觉。
17 willow bMFz6     
  • The river was sparsely lined with willow trees.河边疏疏落落有几棵柳树。
  • The willow's shadow falls on the lake.垂柳的影子倒映在湖面上。
18 dismiss ntlx6     
  • The committee has decided to dismiss him.委员会已决定辞退他。
  • Please dismiss all doubts about it. 请打消对此事的一切顾虑。
19 employment HpGxe     
  • A large office requires the employment of many people.一个大办事处需要雇用好多人员。
  • The state of employment in this city is improving.这个城市就业状况正在改善。
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