August 25, 2017
Carol wishes someone would come and sweep her off her feet.
Yesterday, I looked at the expression “flying by the seat of your pants.” Today, I will look at another phrase which metaphorically suggests that someone’s feet are off the ground.
What Does It Mean When Someone Is Swept off Their Feet?
To be swept off one’s feet can mean several things, but it depends on what is being discussed. In short, it means someone is falling in love, finding something or someone attractive, or something or someone has captured (another) person’s imagination.
Usually, you will hear a woman say this, especially if she is romantically inclined.* It harkens back to fairy tales, where princes came to save their princesses from danger our other horrible situations. In essence, finding love is a dream come true and an expected progression in one’s life. With that in mind, a wish a woman might have for someone to “sweep her off her feet” means that she wants to meet someone and instantly fall in love.
Sometimes, someone can fall in love, but it does not have to be in the romantic sense. For example, people can fall in love with ideas and movements. In that case, if someone presents a winning vision or argument, they may in effect sweep whole swaths of people off their feet.
* Note: Men might use the term “knock me off my feet.”
Where Does the Expression ‘Sweep Her Off Her Feet’ Originate?
There wasn’t an easy answer when I first began doing the research for this phrase, but I may have found something.
At first, I went to the Phrase Finder’s discussion boards. There, I found a thread which first looked like a dead end. On November 30, 2007, a user named Aaron asked about the origin of the phrase “swept off her feet” on. He received four messages in response (but one was just a user quoted his own post and adding nothing more to it).
On the same day the OP was posted, Smokey Stover answered with a few examples, some from the Oxford English Dictionary, and some of his own. Before citing the examples, Smokey Stover explained that the figurative use of the infinitive “to sweep” was in reference to the motion of a broom, which “sweeps thing along irresistibly, or along the ground in front of it, or brushes things off the surface, or causes things inexorably to be moved along together.”
Now, it appears that the passage from the Oxford English Dictionary actually contains a reference to the source. But by then, I had already started looking at other sources.
There were two definitions here but the first is relevant to this phrase:
sweep or carry or knock off someone’s feet. Overwhelm someone emotionally; infatuate someone; make a very favorable impression on someone. For example, Winning first prized knocked her off her feet, or With his little gifts and gallant behavior, he swept her off her feet, or That fine speech carried him off his feet. The term using sweep dates from about 1900, carry from the mid-1800’s and knock from the early 1900’s.
Online Etymology Dictionary
When I began my search anew, I remembered to go back to this website (this should be a regular stop when I’m stuck in the future) and I wasn’t disappointed. Once there, I looked for the word “sweep” and under the definition for the verb, I found a tidbit of information. According to the entry, the phrase “sweep one of one’s feet” originated in 1913.
The Broken Halo
Now, going back to the information I found from the Phrase Finder message boards, I looked closely at the information taken from the Oxford Online Dictionary. It turns out, the first example given for the phrase contained some information and a quote.
In then took the quote and searched for it on Google. Then, I found on online version of The Broken Halo, a book written by Florence Louisa Barclay.
In Chapter XIV, Mrs. Herriot reads a letter she receives from Myra, Countess of Airth. Here is the relevant passage:
I sometimes wonder what would happen, if Margaret came unexpectedly into intimate contact with a real virile, vial man. Her starved nature would awaken, and leap up responsive. It would be like the first days of real sunshine at the beginning of Spring. All nature bursts forth at the call of the sun. Nothing can keep the golden crocus buried beneath the mould, when sunbeam heralds sound the reveille. I remember being swept completely off my feet when I first met Jim; but, thank heaven, I was free, and he also! There are all kinds of crocus possibilities in Margaret’s nature, should the sun appear. At present, she dwells alone—with the Garden Roller!…
Now, I don’t know if the phrase existed before, but this work was published in 1913.
Barclay, Florence Louisa. “Chapter XIV: After the Mischief Was Done.” The Broken Halo. G.P Putnam’s Sons. 1913. Print. Page 169.
Cambridge University Press. “sweep someone off their feet Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge English Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 25 Aug 2017. <http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/sweep-someone-off-their-feet>.
Dictionary.com. “off someone’s feet.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Houghton Mifflin Company. 9 Aug. 2017. Web. Retrieved 25 Aug 2017. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/off-someone-s-feet>.
Harper, Douglas. “sweep.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 25 Aug 2017. <http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=sweep&allowed_in_frame=0>.
Various. “Swept off her feet.” The Phrase Finder. 30 Nov 2007. Web. Retrieved 25 Aug 2017. <http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/56/messages/505.html>.