Based on this page, I know it means STOP but i can't figure out what they would STOP.

Raising that target to 3 or even 4 percent as some economists have suggested would shift the outlook of firms in particular, allowing them to charge more for goods and pay more for labor without the fear that a central bank would step on the brakes."


  • 3
    I think this is more of a technical question, as you appear to understand the language aspects. The central bank would indeed be "slowing down" the economy by stepping on the "brakes" - what that actually means in practice (and why they might choose to do this) is an economics question rather than an English Language one. Jun 16, 2017 at 16:22

4 Answers 4


The US Federal Reserve (FED) is mandated to maintain inflation within a targeted band. As economic activity increases, the risk of inflation also increases. By slowing down the economy, the risk of inflation abates.

One way the FED slows down the economy is by raising interest rates (stepping on the brakes).

What the article is saying is, if the FED's policy targets a high enough interest rate which already accommodates economic growth, businesses would not have to worry about the FED raising rates further (stepping on the brakes) to slow the economy down.

This is important since businesses want certainty so they can plan for the future.


You can think of it in that context to mean the bank would slow them down or stop that from occuring

Edit: Them being the party or person the bank is slowing down

That being the action (s) being performed by the party or person in question that the bank we will be attempting to slow down or stop

  • 2
    While correct in so far as the definition of "step on the brakes", the questioner isn't asking about the definition per se (note the link to a dictionary definition in the question), but rather what is being stopped. That is, who is the "them" in slow them down, and what is the "that" in stop that from occuring.
    – R.M.
    Jun 16, 2017 at 16:05
  • 1
    @R.M. - Hmm. I'm not sure about that. The definition in the link only alluded to stopping, but the meaning here is clearly slow down. I wondered if that discrepancy wasn't the crux of the issue.
    – J.R.
    Jun 16, 2017 at 19:38
  • @Norr While in retrospect I see J.R.'s point, your edits to address my concerns don't really help much, as they're basically tautological. -- My suggestion is to put yourself in the position of the question-asker: If you didn't know what "they" and "them" referred to, would your edit clarify the matter? Would you be any further along in interpreting the original paragraph for having read the content of the edit?
    – R.M.
    Jun 17, 2017 at 18:35

This expression doesn't only mean stop, it can also mean slow down (just like you can use brakes in a car to stop or to slow down).

You provided a link to a dictionary that only mentions stopping – and I've upvoted your question for showing your research. However, it's often good to check more than one dictionary, as sometimes a dictionary won't quite capture all the possible usages of a word.

In this case, we can find more at Cambridge, which says:

put the brakes on to slow down or stop an activity : The city has put the brakes on further spending.

or at Collins, which says:

brake (noun) You can use brake in a number of expressions to indicate that something has slowed down or stopped : Illness had put a brake on his progress.

The expressions hit the breaks and put the brakes on are pretty much interchangeable when it comes to these metaphorical usages.


'Step on the brakes' means to stop as quickly as possible. It comes from the days when Cars and Lorries did not have power operated brakes and to stop quickly you needed to put a lot of pressure on the brake peddle hence you put your full weight on the peddle and raised yourself out of your seat.

  • Do you have a source that supports this? You can say just "Step on it!" (meaning go faster) and gas pedals don't have hydraulic assist.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 17, 2017 at 11:15

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