Talking the walk: a look at walking-related idioms

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

These common turns of phrase say a lot about walking — and life.

Photo: Oksana_Alex/iStock

The English language is peppered with walking-related turns of phrase. A closer look at these expressions is an opportunity to gain some insight into how we think about forward momentum — not only on the walking path, but also in life in general.

Idioms can be stepping stones to insight

Figuratively speaking, a walk in the park is something that’s very easy or pleasant. That makes sense, because it jibes with our real-world experience. In fact, one of the most appealing things about taking an actual walk is that it’s generally so simple and often relaxing to do.

Walking arm in arm with someone indicates intimacy or friendship. Similarly, the expressions shoulder to shoulder, side by side, and hand in hand suggest close cooperation, whether they're used literally or figuratively. There’s truth in these expressions, too. Research shows that people who walk next to each other tend to synchronize their movements, and that helps them feel more emotionally in sync.

A step in the right direction indicates progress toward a goal. When you move forward in small, tentative increments, it’s called baby steps. And when you advance more rapidly and boldly, it’s described as taking a giant step forward or making great strides. In fact, walking is one of the most common metaphors for any type of progress. That's likely because the mental picture it paints is instantly relatable.

Idioms reflect the culture, thoughts, and associations of those who speak the language.

But sometimes you're treading a fine line

Of course, not every walking-related expression has such a positive connotation. If you’re told to take a hike, it’s probably not because the speaker is concerned about your health. And being led down the garden path doesn’t mean everything is rosy.

Still, many expressions about walking do suggest that you’re moving forward and getting somewhere. The implication is clear: You might not be able to reach every goal quickly. But if you keep plugging away, you may gradually get there, one step at a time.

About the author

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a freelance health and psychology writer.