Red Pen Diaries: I Can Get You a Toe

Red Pen Diaries: Advice and Observations on Writing and the English LanguageThe common usage error I'd like to discuss today is the phrase "toe the line."

The expression generally means "to strictly adhere to rules or standards; to conform," often with a connotation of servility. But it's frequently (and incorrectly) written as "tow the line," which would instead suggest somebody dragging a cable around.

It makes more sense if you think of sailors being ordered to stand at attention with their toes aligned against a particular deck plank, which is one common explanation for the phrase's origins.


"He always toes the party line."

"If they find you aren't toeing the company line, you could be fired."

"She toed the corporate line until she realized she wasn't getting that raise."