Posted by David on January 28, 2003
In Reply to: TOE the line posted by R. Berg on January 19, 2003
: : : : "Tow the line" my understanding is this phrase comes from an old boxing rule where each boxer would put the tow of the left boot on a line drawn on the ground then start fighting anyone heard a different version.
: : : It's "toe", not "tow". I've also read claims that it may have sprung from the starting of a race, but the origin does seem to be from the sporting world, regardless.
: : In one suggested origin the Line actually exists and is still found in the House of Commons. It was put there to mark the sword distance between Government and Opposition front benches. Members were told to toe the line if, in the eyes of the Speaker, they became too excited.
: In the U.S. we use metal detectors instead. Legislators must check their swords at the door.
I was told years ago that the expression comes from the Royal Navy from many years ago. To prove they weren't drunk when they came back on board ship a straight line was drawn on deck and sailors would have to walk toe to toe (pigeon step) along it to prove their sobriety. if you could do this you were behaving yourself - i.e 'toe-ing the line'