Boot Idioms



My post a couple days ago about “boots on the ground” got me thinking about idioms with the word boot in them. I came up with sixteen.

1Shaking in your boots: An expression meaning fearful. I prefer shaking in your shoes because of the alliteration, but the image works either way.

When I saw the approaching horde of zombie hamsters, I began to shake in my boots.

2Pull yourself up by your bootstraps: To pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps means to accomplish something without relying on anyone else. It is often used to refer to a futile solo effort as well. Apparently, boots used to have straps that helped the wearer pull them on. I don’t wear boots, but I don’t think bootstraps are all that common anymore, right?

After his family and friends refused to finance his gazpacho restaurant, Harry was forced to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

3Give him the boot: The mental image here is of a literal kicking, but normally to give someone the boot means to fire him or send him away.

After Allen spilled a bowl of gazpacho on the mayor’s lap, the restaurant manager gave him the boot.

4Boots on the ground: I talked about this expression in a recent post. It’s a figurative way of talking about soldiers in action.

Missiles might weaken them, but we can’t defeat the enemy unless we put some boots on the ground.

5Kick off your boots/shoes: I guess shoes is more common than boots in this expression, but I’ve heard both. It means to relax and make yourself comfortable.

Come on in! Kick off your boots while I  pour you a nice bowl of gazpacho.

6Boot up: Interestingly, this computer term — meaning to get a computer started — was derived from the bootstraps expression above. Computers engage a complex self-running process when they boot up.

I’ll Google that gazpacho recipe as soon as my computer finishes booting up.

7Bet your boots: An expression of positive affirmation. It means of course; certainly. The suggestion is that the outcome is so certain that you can feel comfortable betting even something as indispensable as your boots on it. It’s an idiom associated with the Wild West, where a good pair of boots were a necessity.

Is Aunt Harriet’s gazpacho delicious? You bet your boots it is!

8To boot: This one’s a bit different. It actually has nothing to do with footwear. According to Phrase Finder, boot is a derivative of an Old English word bat, meaning good or useful. It’s where we get the word better. To boot means moreover; in addition.

She served her guests giant bowls of gazpacho and nachos to boot!

9Heart in my boots: This expression connotes sadness or despair. When we feel discouraged, we get a “sinking” feeling, right? Well, the heart can’t sink much farther than your boots, can it?

Our hearts were in our boots when the waitress informed us that they were out of gazpacho

10Tough as old boots: Boots are tough. They are made to last. Tough guys wear boots: construction workers, bikers, soldiers, cowboys.  Boots are made of leather, usually — the toughest material around. Makes you wonder why cows aren’t considered the toughest in the animal kingdom, doesn’t it?

Even at seventy five, Grandpa was tough as old boots. He would down a bowl of gazpacho in one gulp and floss his teeth with barbed wire.

11Die with your boots on: We’re all going to die sometime, so you might as well go down swinging. That’s the idea behind dying with your boots on. It means working hard till you can’t work anymore.

Coming up with another sample sentence involving gazpacho might kill me, but at least I’ll die with my boots on.

12Bootlicker: Some of these idioms are positive, but not this one. No one wants to be considered a bootlicker. A bootlicker is a fawning, obsequious panderer — someone who kisses up to the boss to get ahead. A yes-man. A suck up. A brown nose.

Stanley was just being a bootlicker when he brought the CEO a bowl of his wife’s famous gazpacho.

13Hang up your boots: To hang up your boots means to retire. It’s particularly apt for retiring athletes and referred to athletic boots football/soccer players used to wear.

I’m about out of gazpacho references; maybe it’s time I hang up my boots.

14Too big for your boots/britches: Being from the South, I am more used to the britches version of this saying, but I’ve heard people say too big for your boots also. It refers to someone who is uppity or obstinate toward someone older. It means thinking of yourself as more mature than you really are.

That new chef is getting too big for his boots; he thinks his gazpacho is as good as mine!

15Boot camp: Ever wonder why military training facilities are called boot camp? No? Hm. I have. The best I could discover is that Marines began calling new recruits “boots” as far back as the Spanish-American war. This is because sailors would wear leggings called boots. That, by the way, is another example of synecdoche.

Boot camp was very challenging to the recruits, but morale was always lifted on Gazpacho Night in the mess hall.

16Boot Hill: Boot Hill is a slang term for any cemetery in the Old West. Gunslingers were sent to Boot Hill because, well, they died with their boots on!

Scarcheek Sammy didn’t end up in Boot Hill for losing a gunfight; he died from some bad gazpacho.


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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Catherine

    Then there’s the British expression “bossy boots,” which I think I first heard on the Judi Dench comedy “A Fine Romance” back in the day, no doubt to describe the no-nonsense, assertive character she was playing. In fact I can no longer remember the American equivalent of bossy boots.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko08-18-2013

      I think the equivalent is “bossy pants.” Maybe? 🙂

  2. Paul Schwarz
    Paul Schwarz02-22-2012

    Typo Gestapo at work: In sample sentence #10, you have “floss he teeth with barbed wire.” That reminds me of the typos I sometimes leave on my WriteAtHome coach feedback papers!

  3. homeschoolChris

    A lot of cowboy boots still have straps to help putting them on. Also, to hang up your boots came from the countries where scorpions and other undesirable critters might decide to get into them overnight because they were warm. So people hung up their boots. Great article, really enjoyed it!

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko02-19-2012

      Thanks for the clarification, Chris. I don’t get out west too often, but next time I’ll look for boot straps! I hadn’t heard your explanation for “hang up your boots” either. I appreciate your participation here!

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