toe the line

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English[edit]

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Etymology[edit]

  • Most likely derived from putting one's toe to a line, mark, or seam on a naval ship as a form of regimentation or punishment.[1][2]

Verb[edit]

toe the line

  1. (idiomatic) To abide by the rules or conventions.
    Television shows these days do not always toe the line of decency and common sense.
    • 1831, Captain Basil Hall RN, Fragments of Voyages and Travels, reprinted from the London Literary Gazette in The Atheneum, 4th series, volume 1, page 188:
      The matter, therefore, necessarily became rather serious; and the whole gang of us being sent for on the quarter deck, we were ranged in a line, each with his toes at the edge of a plank, according to the orthodox fashion of these gregarious scoldings, technically called ‘toe-the-line matches.’
  2. (idiomatic) To stand at one's mark before a footrace.
    Alberto Salazar is one of the most famous athletes to have toed the line at this great race.

Related terms[edit]