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To push my/your buttons

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 21, 2006

In Reply to: To push my/your buttons posted by Barrie West on March 20, 2006

: What is the origin of the idiom "to push my/your buttons" in the act of arousing interest?
: Does the definitive meaning of this phrase make an appearance in a reference work or in a research paper?
: Thanking you in anticipation
: Barrie West

I'm not the one who will find this phrase in a reference work for you But it plainly comes from the fact that everyone, or many of us, respond relexively, or almost so (for well or ill) to certain stimuli, which may include certain sights, sounds or smells, and also words. These "sore points," which will almost invariably invoke a certain predictable response, can be likened to buttons which can be pushed, like those of an elevator, not only in the normal course of events, but by someone, deliberately or not, saying the word, or using the tone, or using the expression, or otherwise invoking a certain memory, which will trigger an emotional reaction, sometimes accompanied by physical action. An individual who is normally docile can be put in a fighting mood by "pushing" some of his "buttons." Someone who loves animals can be put in a mood to cry if someone wants to push his or her buttons by talking about, say, the cruel treatment of a pet. Push the right buttons and you can get a politician or reformer to pontificate endlessly about his pet projects or his pet peeves. Push one of my buttons and I will try to hit you. Push another and I'll start to lecture you endlessly on some subject. Push another and I'll probably cry. Push another and I'll probably vote for you--or against you. Cut in front of me on the road and I won't react except perhaps to hit the brake, but many others find that this pushes one of their buttons, and they are consumed by road rage. Rare is the one with absolutely no such buttons at all.

There have been other phrases with a somewhat similar meaning. "Saying this to him was like waving a red flag in front of his face." I can't think of any more at the moment. SS