Play Footsie: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
October 31, 2023

We often come across various idioms in our daily conversations, and one such intriguing idiom is "play footsie." This phrase might sound playful, but what does it truly mean?

In short:

"Play footsie" refers to a flirtatious act of touching someone's foot under a table, often secretly. It can also mean to engage in covert or indirect cooperation with someone, especially in politics or business.

What Does “Play Footsie” Mean?

The phrase "play footsie" originally refers to a playful or flirtatious interaction where two people touch each other's feet under a table. This act is often done discreetly and is usually a sign of romantic or sexual interest between the parties involved. The phrase has evolved to take on a broader meaning. It is now also used metaphorically to describe covert or indirect cooperation or engagement between two parties, often in a political or business context.

  • At its most literal, it describes a flirtatious act where two people touch each other's feet under a table, often secretly. This can be a playful or romantic gesture between couples.
  • In a broader sense, "play footsie" can also mean to engage in covert or indirect cooperation with someone. This term is often used in politics or business, where two parties might work together behind the scenes without openly acknowledging it.

Where Does “Play Footsie” Come From?

The phrase “play footsie” is of American-English origin. It is a playful expression of sexual attraction, where one person secretly touches another person’s foot or ankle with their own, especially under a table. The term can also be used figuratively to describe having underhanded dealings with someone. The term “footsie” originated in 1944 and is derived from the word "foot." A similar term, “footie,” was also used in the same sense from 1935. The phrase “play footsie” has since been incorporated into the common language to describe the literal act of playful foot touching and the figurative act of secretive or dishonest dealings.

10 Examples of “Play Footsie” in Sentences

Understanding an idiom is one thing, but seeing it in action can truly help. Following are some sentences that incorporate "play footsie" in various contexts:

  • She and Mark were playing footsie under the dinner table, thinking no one noticed.
  • The two rival companies were suspected of playing footsie to eliminate competition.
  • I noticed Jake and Lisa playing footsie during the meeting, which was quite amusing.
  • Politicians often play footsie with big corporations to further their agendas.
  • The CEO, at the helm of the company, got caught playing footsie with a competitor.
  • They tried to play footsie with the opposing team to get an advantage.
  • For God's sake, don't play footsie under the table during a serious business meeting.
  • It's rumored that the two nations are playing footsie to dominate the region.
  • He was caught playing footsie with the enemy, leading to his expulsion from the group.
  • When you play footsie with someone, make sure you know what you're talking about to avoid misunderstandings.

As you can see, the term can be used in both light-hearted and serious contexts.

Examples of “Play Footsie” in Pop Culture

Over the years, "play footsie" has made its mark in popular culture.

Here are some notable mentions:

  • Gregory E. Lang wrote a book titled "Play Footsie Under the Table: And 499 More Ways to Make Love Last." The book offers hundreds of unique ways to create memorable moments in a relationship.
  • In the song "The Car Song" by Martha Wainwright, the lyrics go: "Let's go play footsie with the pedal. Get on the road." The song is about the joy of driving and the freedom it brings.
  • Another song, "Composite Head" by Motorpsycho, contains the lyrics: "Put the pedal to the metal come play footsie with fate." The song explores themes of fate and destiny.
  • In the TV show "Suits," a character says, "But if you keep playing footsie." The line is part of a dialogue discussing the consequences of flirting in a professional setting.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say “Play Footsie"

There are several ways to convey "play footsie" without using the exact phrase. Here are some alternatives:

  • Flirt covertly
  • Engage in secret dealings
  • Collude behind the scenes

Each of these expressions can be used depending on the context and what you wish to emphasize.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About “Play Footsie”:

  • What does "play footsie" mean?

It refers to a flirtatious act of touching someone's foot under a table or engaging in covert cooperation with someone.

  • Where did the idiom "play footsie" originate?

The phrase first appeared in the 1940s in the United States.

  • Is "play footsie" used in a positive or negative context?

It can be used in both positive (flirtatious) and negative (deceptive cooperation) contexts.

  • Is it appropriate to use "play footsie" in formal writing?

It's best to avoid it in very formal settings, but it can be used in informal or semi-formal writing.

  • Is "play footsie" a global idiom?

While it's widely understood in English-speaking countries, it might not translate well in non-English cultures.

  • How can I use "play footsie" in a sentence?

For example, "The two companies were suspected of playing footsie to control market prices."

  • Are there any songs that mention "play footsie"?

Yes, the song "Footsie" by Wizzard is one such example.

  • Why do people call it "play footsie" and not "play handie"?

The idiom specifically refers to the act of touching feet, which is more discreet than using hands, especially under a table.

  • Do people use “play footsie” in professional or formal contexts?

Generally, “play footsie” is not used in professional or formal contexts. In its literal sense, it refers to a flirtatious gesture, which is not appropriate in professional settings. 

  • Can “play footsie” refer to non-romantic interactions?

Yes, “play footsie” can refer to non-romantic interactions. Beyond its original meaning of a flirtatious foot touch, it can also describe subtle, indirect cooperation between two parties, such as political or business entities, where there is a mutual, often secretive, benefit or goal.

Final Thoughts About “Play Footsie”

The idiom "play footsie" holds a significant place in everyday language, showcasing the versatility of expression in English.

  • Originally referring to a subtle form of flirtation, it has evolved to describe covert cooperation or collusion.
  • Its historical usage in literature, media, and political contexts highlights its adaptability and continued relevance.
  • Understanding the different contexts where people use "play footsie" improves effective communication and comprehension.
  • While it may not be suitable for formal or professional contexts, its usage in everyday language remains prevalent.

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