phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

A line in the sand

Posted by R. Berg on April 04, 2001

In Reply to: Draw the line posted by ESC on March 30, 2001

: : Any ideas on the origin of this expression?

: I didn't find "draw a line in the sand," but I found this:

: DRAW THE LINE - "When we say 'This is where I draw the line,' we are of course laying down a definite limit beyond which we refuse to go. Several attempts have been made to trace actual sources of the figurative 'line' in the phrase. One says that it referred to tennis, a sport almost as popular as cricket in England by the 18th century. When tennis was introduced from France four centuries before, according to this story, there were no exact dimensions for the court and players drew lines beyond which they agreed the ball couldn't be hit. Another explanation says that the line was cut by a plowhorse across a field to indicate the boundary of a farmer's holding in 16th-century England. No examples of the figurative expression 'to draw the line' have been found recorded before 1793, but either theory could be right. The phrase could also derive from early prizefights, where a line was drawn in the ring that neither fighter could cross." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

The Word Detective Dot Com describes some additional plausible theories about this phrase.

  • Link to Word Detective: sand