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Toe the line

刊登日期: 2019.03.29
作者: Grace Tse  

All schools have a set of rules on school attendance, students’ behaviour and homework. Are school rules necessary? Since they can discipline students and maintain the quality of the learning environment, students are advised to “toe the line”(循規蹈矩). 

The idiom “toe the line” means “conform to expected standards and attitudes”. Literally, the word “toe” functions as a verb which means “touch with one’s toe”. 

It has been suggested that people had to put their toes behind the starting line in a sporting event. Some said that this saying originated from the British House of Commons(英國國會下議院), where lines were painted on the floor to stop opposing legislators from sword-fighting. 

However, scholars believe that the saying was most likely used by the Royal Navy(皇家海軍)in the early 18th century. Sailors had to line up with their bare feet for inspection behind the plank-lines on the decks. 

The concept of this idiom first appeared as “toe the mark” in a book written by an American writer, James Kirke Paulding, in 1813. 

“… he began to think it was high time to toe the mark, …” 

Other words than “mark” were commonly used in the 19th century: toe the crack; toe the scratch; and toe the plank

Nowadays, the idiom “toe the line” is very popular in politics. It is figuratively used to describe that a person of a particular group has to accept the authority or policies, especially unwillingly

The British Prime Minister warned her party members to toe the line (遵從). 

Chinese intellectuals were urged to toe the party line.  


Glossary

Conform 

遵守

Bare feet 

赤腳

Plank 

板條

Crack 

裂紋

Scratch 

劃痕

Politics 

政治

Unwillingly 

不情願地

Party 

政黨

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