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They got in just under the wire

Posted by Baceseras on October 03, 2007

In Reply to: They got in just under the wire posted by Smokey Stover on October 02, 2007

: : When something is done or accomplished at the last minute we might say, "They got in just under the wire".

: : There doesn't seem to be any discussion of this in the archive. Any thoughts?

: It's obviously a variant of "down to the wire," but not quite the same. I think it's up to you to provide the discussion, Baceseras; you're plainly the right person for the job.
: SS

I hope your confidence isn't misplaced, Smokey. When we say that any matter comes "down to the wire", we are implicitly comparing it to a horse race in which the contenders are closely matched and a winner can only be decided by the last step of the course, the step that carries one horse across the finish ever so slightly ahead of the second-placer.

But "under the wire" is used differently. It carries the meaning of beating a deadline with no time left to spare. I can't see how this has anything to do with the wire stretched over a race couurse's finish line. After all, every horse, down to the last straggler, eventually gets under that wire. It speaks no distinction of the winner, or consolation to the loser, to say that he "got in under the wire" - that's a given.

So I can't see how the spatial figure of "under the wire" translates into the timely sense of "at the last possible second". Is the phrase, as we use it, mere sounding nonsense. Or (and here is what I hoped to find out) is there some other kind of wire implied - a wire that acts perhaps like the leading edge of a closing door?

I don't know; I have to leave it there.

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