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TOE the line

Posted by Lewis on January 20, 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.

Strange as it may seem, the British do not carry swords as a matter of course. Ceremonial swords are still used by the great and the good for ceremonial purposes, but even gentlemen refrain from going armed these days.
The earlier poster was nearest the mark - to "toe the line" came out of the history of boxing. It was some time back, but there used to be a type of boxing where the pugilists went "toe to toe" and both had to keep a toe on a line on the ground. that kept them within striking reach of each other and led to bloodier encounters than these days. {aside: even in those days Iron Mike would have been disqualified for taking a snack during the bout - he would not have had any kind of points win - he would have had to stand there until Lennox Lewis pulped him.)
The House of Commons tale may also be true, but the pugilist version is fairly common coinage.