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I am trying to use kiss as a verb, but with non-romantic connotations. I want it to express someone's reverence and longing after another person, in a context like:

In spirit, he was __________ [something instead of kissing] the footsteps of his father.

When I searched Google for "euphemism for kiss", I got much more specific results that were not at all euphemistic. When I searched "kiss something holy", I did find something like holy kiss and the kiss of peace which may get closer to what I need, but these do not work in my context; I need a verb, not a noun.

I don't mind if it is archaic or has religious connotations. I think something in that area would fit my context just fine.

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    Beware of mixing metaphors. Unless there are literal footprints involved, you're probably already leveraging the metaphoric phrase "following in the footsteps of ___." And obviously even "kiss" would be metaphorical in this context. It's not inconceivable, but "to boldly mix a metaphor that no one has mixed before" is... pretty bold, and maybe not a good idea if you're unsure about it. Aug 12 at 21:55
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    Osculate? I don't really know what you are asking.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 12 at 22:07
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    You don't really need a euphemism, because 'kiss' isn't a distasteful word. You need a synonym. Aug 13 at 7:09
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    Not a single word, so not an answer, but "following reverently in the footsteps of his father" might work for you. "Embracing" might work too, but not with footsteps. Aug 13 at 20:30
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    When people kiss the Pope's ring I don't think they are doing it in a romantic way.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 13 at 22:40

5 Answers 5

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worship

to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing).

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/worship

venerate

to regard and treat with reverence; revere

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/venerate

revere

to regard with respect tinged with awe

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/revere

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    "Idolize" would be another one in this vein. If you wish to indicate misplaced adoration, the phrase "putting on a pedestal" could do that.
    – pjs
    Aug 13 at 21:15
  • @pjs: Not really. It would be aesthetically wrong; and the degree of fallacy would depend on the speaker's personal beliefs and convictions. While "worshipping" is an honest breach of the Second Commandment, "idolizing" pretends not to be, which renders it just a tiny bit hypocritical.
    – Ricky
    Aug 14 at 1:21
  • I will definitely use "venerate" from your answer, although not exactly with the meaning you quote.
    – fev
    Aug 15 at 10:58
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I don't think I've ever seen or heard the idiom "kiss someone's footsteps" in English, although apparently it's not completely unknown. However, there's a rather similar idiom "kiss the ground someone walks on" which is in fairly common use.

And you don't need any kind of synonym or euphemism for the word "kiss" in it — it already connotes exactly what you seem to want, namely complete and total adoration for someone. While that adoration could in some cases be romantic, that's not the primary connotation, and usually it would be clear from context what specific kind of feelings the idiom describes.

That said, if you still don't like the word "kiss", there's also "worship the ground someone walks on", which carries essentially the same meaning and is also in fairly common use. So you could use that instead.

(No, "worship someone's footsteps" is not a common idiom in English either.)


FWIW, here's a quick comparison of the relative frequencies of these idioms, courtesy of Google Books Ngram Viewer:

Google Books Ngram Viewer screenshot

As you can see from the graph, in modern usage "worship the ground someone walks on" seems to be the most common of these idioms, with nearly four times as many results as the second most common one, "kiss the ground someone walks on". However, it looks like "kiss someone's footsteps" may have enjoyed some popularity back in the 1800s, although the paucity of data from that far back makes the results unreliable and worth taking with a pinch of salt.

(In particular, looking at the actual search results briefly, the peaks back in the early 1800s seem to arise mainly from single essays or poems that were reprinted several times, and not all of them seem to actually use the idiom in the sense you want — one poem, for example, speaks of waves that "kiss his footsteps with the rising spray".)

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  • You've definitely convinced me to give up footsteps in my metaphor. However "worship the ground someone walks on" is slightly too much for what I need, But your research helped me a great deal to understand which direction to take. Well done.
    – fev
    Aug 15 at 10:57
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I believe the poster is a translator, so he will, I hope, understand that it is often necessary to discard completely the form of words of one language when expressing an idea in another.

Honouring the spirit/life/works of his father

…seems to me an acceptable way of expressing the idea in English — straightforward but quite elegant.

If something of greater reverence is really needed, embracing has the quasi-religious, quasi-romantic duality of kiss. Quite what to embrace is another matter. Spirit? Example? You choose.

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  • Yes, I like more embracing than honouring. Honouring sounds a bit cold. I need something to express that deep longing. I see that in English footsteps do not have much to do with reverence...
    – fev
    Aug 13 at 13:47
  • @fev — You tend to "follow" in someone's footsteps, but that has a different meaning, as I imagine you are aware. And then there's the Victorian Christmas Carol: "In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted", with it's awful rhymes to "sod" and "printed". Literal expression of the same thing.
    – David
    Aug 13 at 15:17
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A euphemistic, or rather, an indirect approach would be using the verb reach. It has the physical touch sense in one of its senses and it is more suitable than the verb touch also; because touch is strongly associated with touching with hands or fingers. Moreover, reach can be used figuratively where your context has that semantic blur as well, smudged with different senses.

Here is the relevant transitive sense of the verb reach and a citation from OED:

To succeed in touching or grasping (a person or thing), esp. with an outstretched hand or something held in it. Also figurative with immaterial object.

If I could but reach that hand.
1858    C. Kingsley Poems 113

Incidentally, the verb reach was used with the meaning to give a kiss in the past; however, it is obsolete now per OED:

transitive. To give (a kiss). Obsolete. rare.

Note: You can also find usages like reached her lips, reaching my lips etc.

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Thanks to all your suggestions, I understood that:

  1. I have to let go of footsteps.
  2. I can use venerate, as it is used with relic.

Someone venerating a saint’s relic can kiss or touch the glass case that houses the relic, or simply stand near the relic in a prayerful attitude, raising one’s heart and mind to God and invoking the intercession of the saint. (source)

  1. Instead of footsteps I can use footprints.

Venerating someone's footsteps is a rare gesture, I understand, but it does exist across several cultures, as this Google search shows. It may be that this gesture was used more in earlier centuries of Christianity. In English I found an example in William Rees's Memoirs of the Late Rev. W. Williams, of Wern (1846, page 49):

There are hundreds here who cherish towards his name the warmest affection ; and who venerate his very footprints out of gratitude to God for sending him hither.

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