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Re: The wall

Posted by ESC on March 14, 2003

In Reply to: Go to the wall... posted by S. Ryan on March 14, 2003

: In a recent conversation, a combat veteran stated that, "He is the kind of guy that I would go to the wall for." Is this a relatively new phrase referring to the Viet Nam Memorial Wall or is it perhaps more deeply rooted in history? Why "wall?" Is it the same as "going the extra mile" for someone or something?

TO GO TO THE WALL - "Though now it is usually a business house that, under insurmountable financial difficulties, 'goes to the wall,' it was - back in the sixteenth century - the adversary in a conflict that, forced to yield ground, went to the wall. The allusion is to the desperate straits of a wayfarer when set upon by ruffians in an unlighted street of former years. By giving ground and getting his back to the wall he was better able to defend himself by poniard or sword. From the same situation, by no means uncommon in the Middle Ages and later, came our expression, to be driven (or pushed to the wall,' which we now use in a similar sense, to be forced to one's last resource." From "Heavens to Betsy" by Charles Earle Funk (1955, Harper & Row, New York).

A similar phrase:

WITH ONE'S BACK TO THE WALL -- "Hard-pressed, making a last stand. The expression comes from fighting. Literally backing up against a wall prevents an attack from the rear but also may prevent further retreat. The term has been used since the sixteenth century but became famous near the end of World War I, when General Douglas Haig of Great Britain, according to the London Times (April 13, 1918), ordered his troops 'Every position must be held to the last man...With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end.'" From "Fighting Words: from War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers" by Christine Ammer (NTC Publishing Group, Chicago, 1989, 1999).