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Someone wanted to know, is it toe the line or tow the line?

Let's discuss this with help from the people of Stargate Command.


It can be really easy to mix up these two phrases. The first word of each are homophones - two words that sound alike but are spelled differently - and you can make sense of the phrase with either toe or tow. But the correct term is toe the line.

Toe the line, has an interesting history, and its origin has been attributed to many sources. It's generally thought that the phrase began during track events - athletes would toe the line when waiting for the signal to start, or in one reference that I found, "race officials used to shout 'Toe the line' instead of 'On your marks.'"

Wikipedia has several other possible origins for this term, but suggests that the "most likely origin" was during the late 17th, early 18th centuries when Royal Navy seamen were required to toe the line on the wooden deck during inspections.

Nowadays the phrase means to conform to an established standard or political program, in addition to someone being poised at the starting line in a foot race. Here are a few examples:

Daniel watched as Jack faced the line of recruits. "You will be expected to toe the line," Jack said in his best authoritative tone of voice. "You represent Stargate Command now. You will be the best!"

"The United States Government is spending a lot of money on this program," Senator Kinsey said. "Of course you are going toe the line in this agency, which means bringing back more technology."

In either instance, whether it be conforming to a standard or running a foot race, the person is expected to "step" up to line, which should help the writer to remember that toe the line is the correct phrase to use.
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