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]

to 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.
  1. (idiomatic) To stand at your mark before a footrace.
    Alberto Salazar is one of the most famous athletes to have toed the line at this great race.

Usage notes[edit]

  • This is sometimes carelessly written as tow the line, which itself has taken on a new meaning as an eggcorn. This practice probably originated with people who heard the expression but were not familiar with the original spelling or meaning. With the spelling tow the expression naturally takes on a slightly more active meaning: not simply conforming to the rules, but helping to enforce or confirm them.

Related terms[edit]