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Re: "lay it on the line"

Posted by R. Berg on January 06, 2002

In Reply to: Re: Meaning of "lay it on the line" posted by James Briggs on January 06, 2002

: : : Hello,

: : : I was wondering if anyone knows the roots of the phrase, lay it on the line, I was told by an academic proffesor of gender studies that it refered to the measurement of penis size in taverns during medevil times in europe, can anyone verify this? Please help?

: : Just my opinion.
: : I always thought your phrase derived from some type of sporting event---either the starting line of a foot race or the center line of tennis.

: Another thought - 'My job is on the line' is perhaps related to the above although the expression has an implication of job insecurity. As a result the line may be the dole queue and this fits in with the mainly American use of the phrase since "queue" is seldom used in American English. An alternative origin may be the Assembly Line. This type of automation deprived factory workers of any sort of control over their speed of work - they had to keep up with the line. By extension, if someone felt that they had lost control of their own destiny or job security, then a comparison with the Assembly Line is understandable.

I suspect an origin in gambling. To put something of one's own on the line is to put it at stake. The American Heritage Dict. has, as one definition of "on the line," "In jeopardy; so as to be risked: 'put his reputation on the line.'" But the question was about "lay it on the line," not "put it on the line." The AHD's other definition of "on the line" is "Ready or available for immediate payment." So, in the sense of speaking forthrightly, "on the line" may come from commerce.