Columns » Words

Words, May 8



“Both Democrats insisted on Wednesday they had the best credentials to go head to head — or as Clinton put it ‘toe to toe' — against McCain.”

The quotation marks around toe to toe suggest that the reporter found it unfamiliar, less common than head to head, and he wanted to be sure it was attributed to someone else. But I've heard toe to toe all my life, and Random House says it dates from the 1920s. Granted, head to head is older, going back to the late 18th century, and I've heard it too. Both expressions mean “in direct confrontation.” I've always thought that toe to toe is related to toe the line (“to conform strictly to a rule” and “to do one's duty”) but the dictionary doesn't expressly say so. Toe the line sometimes appears, incorrectly, as “tow the line,” and that reminds me of a long-ago television show on which the host announced that his next guest would be a tow-headed boy. That's what the audience thought he'd announced, anyway, but when the guest came out, it was a young man with a giant toe where his head should have been. (The toe was fake, I believe.) The guest and the host engaged in comic conversation, and when the guest left, the host warned him not to get in a jam.


From The Onion, an online satirical newspaper:

“Commas, Turning Up, Everywhere”

“In the midst of a crisis that may have reached a breaking, point Tuesday afternoon, linguists are baffled, by the sudden and seemingly random, appearance of commas, in our nation's sentences. The epidemic, has spread like wildfire, since signs of the epidemic first, appeared in a Washington Post article, on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. … Columnist William Sa,fire, told reporters ‘We're seeing a collapse of the grammatical rules that have, lasted for centuries.' ”

Sounds like this could be a Saturday night movie on the Sci-Fi Channel. If so, one of those linguists will be a young woman, extremely attractive.  


Add a comment