Studies into the mechanisms of corticosteroid action continue to be a rich bed of research, spanning the fields of neuroscience and endocrinology through to immunology and metabolism. However, the vast literature generated, in particular with respect to corticosteroid actions in the brain, tends to be contentious, with some aspects suffering from loose definitions, poorly-defined models, and appropriate dissection kits. Here, rather than presenting a comprehensive review of the subject, we aim to present a critique of key concepts that have emerged over the years so as to stimulate new thoughts in the field by identifying apparent shortcomings. This article will draw on experience and knowledge derived from studies of the neural actions of other steroid hormones, in particular estrogens, not only because there are many parallels but also because 'learning from differences' can be a fruitful approach. The core purpose of this review is to consider the mechanisms through which corticosteroids might act rapidly to alter neural signaling.