Posted by James Briggs on June 09, 2005
In Reply to: On the line posted by Smokey Stover on June 09, 2005
: : : Looking for origin of 'on the line' i.e. Your job is on the line. Thx.
: : "Lay it (put it) on the line" dates back to the 1940s and means "to be absolutely honest, to declare one's feelings, one's attitude." ("Cassell's Dictionary of Slang" by Jonathon Green, Wellington House, London, 1998.) Another book says the literal meaning of the expression is to hand over money to someone. ("The Pocket Dictionary of American Slang" by Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner, Pocket Books, New York, 1960, 1967)
: : I am guessing that this expression (lay it on the line) and "your job is on the line" are tied to gambling -- putting your money on the line. You are at risk of losing.
: The OED recognizes the expression, but does not explain its origin. " f. to lay (or put) it on the line: (a) to hand over money; (b) to state (something) clearly, plainly, or categorically; (c) (with direct object) to put (one's career, etc.) at risk. Also with place, and the verb to be. Chiefly U.S." Many citations from 1929 on. SS
Here's my speculation - and it's only speculation!
'On the line' 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.