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TOE the line

Posted by Masakim on January 19, 2003

In Reply to: TOE the line posted by TheFallen 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.

"Toe the line" first appeared in the early 18th century, and there are two possible "lines" to which the phrase might originally have referred. One would be the starting line of a foot race, the mark upon which each runner places his or her foot in preparation for the starting gun. The other possibility, which I find more likely, is a line drawn on a ship's deck or a parade ground which new recruits must "toe" as they assemble in formation. I find this source more persuasive because it echoes the connotations of "order" and "obedience" that "toe the line" retains today. It is to a runner's advantage, after all, to "toe" the starting line, but a recruit being ordered to "toe the line" is very quickly learning who is in charge.
From "The Word Detective" (October 30, 2001)