step on it !
August 5, 2010 10:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm learning English.On my dictionary, there 's a phrase, " step on the accelerator (brake)." Will it be true? Then, how can I distinguish between hitting the brake and stepping on the Gas , when you say, " Step on it!" ??
posted by mizukko to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In English, "step on it" always refers (metaphorically) to the accelerator.
posted by madmethods at 10:06 AM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've never heard anyone say "Step on it!" when they mean "Apply pressure to the brake pedal!"

"Step on it!" is used exclusively to mean "Apply pressure to the accelerator/gas pedal," or more generally, "go faster!"
posted by lizzicide at 10:06 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

When people say "Step on it!" they almost always mean to step on the accelerator. I've never heard anyone use that phrase when they mean to put on the brakes.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 10:06 AM on August 5, 2010

Your dictionary is wrong: the accelerator is the gas. To accelerate means to speed up or increase. The expression "step on it" is always understood as meaning "step on the gas"/speed up!
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:07 AM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

From context - though I don't think it's used for the brake much, it is mostly used in the sense of "go faster".
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:07 AM on August 5, 2010

I agree with everyone else.

(Although if this becomes popular, everyone will become very confused...)
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:10 AM on August 5, 2010

Colloquially, as everyone above has said, "hit" is the verb generally used for sudden engagement of the brakes, while one "steps on" the accelerator. So "Step on it!", in the absence of other context, would mean "Accelerate!", not "Brake!"

This makes sense if you think about the way in which one might operate each part of the car. Sudden braking in an emergency would be very hasty-- like "hitting" something. By contrast, sudden acceleration is best accomplished by deliberately, but firmly, pressing one's foot on the pedal-- more like a "step."
posted by Bardolph at 10:11 AM on August 5, 2010

Colloquial expressions:
Step on it = to accelerate
Hit the brakes = to brake

English is hard.
posted by vincele at 10:12 AM on August 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

Colloquially, as everyone above has said, "hit" is the verb generally used for sudden engagement of the brakes

Not sure I agree 100% here. "Hit the brakes" obviously means use the brake. But "hit it" to me isn't clearly about the brake, and I would lean towards it being accelerate as well.
posted by inigo2 at 10:13 AM on August 5, 2010

Yes, as soviet sleepover points out, accelerate means to go faster. The word meaning to go slower is decelerate. In theory a brake could be called a decelerator although in practice it isn't. And as several people have noted, "step on it" always refers to the gas pedal, not the brake. If you wanted someone to step on the brake you would normally say either "slow down" or "stop!".

Why should "step on it" refer to the gas pedal rather than the brake? I think it is because when you have someone else in the car with you, they are much more likely to be impatient and to want you to go faster, than they are to want you to drive more slowly. So if they are asking you to step on some unspecified pedal, you can assume it is the gas pedal. Also, in case of an emergency when you are in danger of a collision and need to stop immediately, it's much faster to say "stop!" than to say "put your foot on the brake pedal!" by which time you would already be dead.
posted by grizzled at 10:14 AM on August 5, 2010

Your dictionary is not wrong; it's just giving you two different phrases--step on the accelerator and step on the brake. Both are idiomatic in English, though people tend to say "step on the gas"; "accelerator" sounds technical and has five syllables (ac cel er a tor).

"Step on it!" always means "step on the gas" / "go faster." Same with "floor it," "punch it," "push it" and a few similar phrases.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:14 AM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

The only situation where anything related to 'step' would refer to the brakes is if I were to say "I was standing on the brakes". However, that is a rare situation and only used to describe an emergency stop - for example, trying to stop on ice and skidding, holding down the brakes in that context would be standing on them. You wouldn't stand on the gas.

So everyone above is correct.

Stepping is only done on the gas.
Slamming and standing is only done to the brakes.
Hitting is almost always the brakes.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:16 AM on August 5, 2010

Step on it is idiom for move faster.
Step on it: give it more gas

Since just about every car now comes with computerized brakes, you are not to step on the brakes but rather tap them gently a few times to cause them to function, to slow down or stop the car.
posted by Postroad at 10:24 AM on August 5, 2010

Acceleration is change in velocity over time, either positive acceleration or negative acceleration. Decelerate is a term some people use in place of negative acceleration. "Step on it!" means give it some gas (gas pedal) for some serious positive acceleration.
posted by studentbaker at 10:28 AM on August 5, 2010

The most common usage I know for brake is "Hit the brakes" (meaning "slow down" or "stop").
There is a similar phrase, "hit the gas" (an informal term for accellerator) which means "speed up"/"go faster", generally in the sense of hurrying things along, and occasionally with the implication of their being a need to escape. (The former being much more common, the latter being defined purely by context.)

If the person providing translation for your dictionary were an imperfect English speaker to begin with, I could see where "step on it" ("speed up"/"go faster") might have gotten garbled with "hit the brakes."
posted by Ys at 10:33 AM on August 5, 2010

I think "step on the accelerator (brake)" is generally not true. It should only be accelerator.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:34 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Hit the brakes" is an idiom that means to stop. It originated with stopping a car, but it's a common phrase that means stopping anything. For example, in dating:

"The relationship was getting too serious. I had to hit the brakes."

It is technically correct to say "step on the brakes" or "hit the gas," but people rarely do. The common usage is:

"Step on it!" You don't even have to say what 'it' is. People know you mean to hurry up.
"Hit the brakes." You can't just say "Hit it!" because that has various other meanings.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:35 AM on August 5, 2010

Step is often used with brakes. evidence: 573,000 google results.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:49 AM on August 5, 2010

Best answer: There are a few different things going on here.

Question 1: Which verb goes with which noun? In my opinion (native English speaker, lived on both coasts of North America)...

?"Step on the accelerator": okay but a little stilted
"Step on the gas": fine
*"Hit the gas": weird
?"Step on the brakes": I would expect this only in a formal context, e.g., a driving lesson
"Hit the brakes": ok, implies suddenness or urgency

Question 2: What is implied by using one of these verbs by itself? I'd say...

"Step on it" = "Step on the gas." This is colloquial and a little funny.
"Hit it" = "Start the process," in general. I might use it to refer to accelerating from a dead stop. I would never think this phrase involved brakes.

An example:

--It's a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses.
--Hit it.

(The Blues Brothers, 1980)
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 11:01 AM on August 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

"Hit it" is also used in waterskiing in the same way as AkzidenzGrotesk describes WRT the Blues Brothers.

You're floating in the water at the end of the rope. You're ready for the [motionless] boat to take off. You signal to the spotter on the boat, who tells the driver to "Hit it".

It can vary in context.

I was driving with my daughter and as she merged on to the highway I told her to step on it to keep up with traffic. There was a guy coming up fast, really standing on the accelerator, so she had to hit the gas hard to keep ahead of him. Suddenly traffic slowed down, so she had to hit the brakes. I while later, as we came up on a curve, I told to to step on the brake a bit before entering the turn, rather than during the turn.

and so on.
posted by chazlarson at 11:23 AM on August 5, 2010

Best answer: As many others of pointed out, "step on" can be used with "the brakes" or "the accelerator" but "step on it" is a seperate, idiomatic expression derived from that usage, which means "hurry up" or "speed up". You can also use it in other contexts. For example, a person might say to a waiter, "Bring me a coke, and step on it!" (Although that would be very rude!)
posted by smilingtiger at 11:26 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you can say "step on the brake pedal" if you're trying to formally explain a procedure, but the idiom "step on it" always means the gas. Every single one of the Google results blue_beetle mentioned (for the first few pages) was an instructional guide or repair manual for a car, not normal, colloquial, spoken English.
posted by wending my way at 12:00 PM on August 5, 2010

Nobody's mentioned the phrase "step to it", which is rarer than "step on it", but usually means some combination of "go faster" and "get started with the current task". I dunno the origin.
posted by IvyMike at 11:11 PM on August 5, 2010

> a person might say to a waiter, "Bring me a coke, and step on it!"

I believe this was humorously depicted in a Bazooka Joe comic--the offended waiter literally stepped on the food.
posted by IvyMike at 11:15 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

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